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QUADERNI 

L, D'ITALIANISTICA 



' Ti^i«ikWiffitK^jft:i]vyk'it>f.ìa^yìTy^'/;.'ì B^trm^ 



Officiai Journal of the Canadian Society for Italian Studies _ „ 
Revue officielle de la société canadienne pour les études italiennes 

VOLUME XXiy NO. 2. 2003 J 



Editor — Directeur 

Konrad Eisenbichler 

Victoria College NF 308, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M5S 1K7, Canada 

Book Review Editor — Responsable de la rubrique des lfvres 

Corrado Federici 

Dept. of Romance Languages, Brock University, St. Catharines, ON L2S 3A1, Canada 

Managing Editor — Directrice Administrative 

Manuela A. Scarci 

Department of Italian Studies, University of Toronto, Toronto ON M5S 1J6, Canada 

Editorial Board — Conseil de rédaction 

Marinella Frescura ( York) Elena Rossi ( Victoria) 

Guido Pugliese ( Toronto-Mississaugd) Anne Urbancic ( Toronto) 

Olga Pugliese ( Toronto) 

Advisory Board — Conseil Consultatif 

Antonio Alessio {Emeritus, McMaster) Gaetana Marrone-Puglia {Princeton) 

Albert Russell Ascoli {UC-Berkeiey) Giuseppe Mazzotta {Yale) 

Luca Codignola {Genova) Gabriele Niccoli {Waterloo) 

Elvio Guagnini ( Trieste) John Picchione ( York) 

Francesco Guardiani ( Toronto) Maria Predelli {McGilt) 

Linda Hutcheon ( Toronto) Pasquale Sabbatini {Napoli) 

Christopher Kleinhenz ( Wisconsin-Madison) Edoardo Saccone ( Univ. College-Cork) 

Anna Laura Lepschy ( Univ. College-London) Ada Testaferri ( York) 

Giulio Lepschy {Univ College-London) Elissa B. Weaver {Chicago) 

Director of — Directeur de 

Biblioteca di Quarderni d'italianistica 

Anthony Mollica {Brock) 

Executhœ of the Society — Executif de la Société 

President - Président: Vera Colini ( Waterloo) 

Vice President - Vice Président : Patrizia Bettella {Alberta) 

Secretary/Treasurer - Secrétaire/Trésorier : Sandra Parmegiani ( Western Ontario) 

Past President - Président sortant : Francesco Loriggio {Carleton) 

Cover : Vinicio Scarci 
Typesetting /Tipographie: Legas (www.legaspublishing.com) 

Quaderni d'italianistica is the official Quaderni d'italianistica est la revue 

journal of the Canadian Society for officielle de la Société canadienne 

Italian Studies. pour les études italiennes. 

Publication of Quaderni d'italianistica is Le Conseil de recherches en sciences 

made possible by a grant from the humanines du Canada a accordé une 

Social Sciences and Humaities Research subvention pour la publication de 

Council of Canada. Quaderni d'italianistica. 



Errata Corrige * 

In volume XXIII, 1 of Qiiaderni d'italianistica, for some strange quirk of 
modern technology, in the article by Robert de Lucca "A Translator's View of 
Gadda's Language: the 'Pasticciaccio'", the last line of note 7 and following notes 
disappeared. We apologize for this omission. 

e) i modi e i vocaboli astratti (4: 1090). 
8"... la sola cosa che conta (balle!) è il far di cappello a chi da da mangiare al porco; 
impara dunque a salutare per via la nera pelata del Mussolini e zitto h, zitto, che, 
tanto, per te, fatica e balla, per te bona Taliana, come ai tempi di Francesco, per te 
è il basto, non si zufola d'altro che del basto, e non servono discorsi e argomenti 
dei politici seccaballe; eternamente e senza remissione tu l'hai d'avere sulUe spalle, 
con la durezza delle traverse, il suo dannato spelamento, e nient'altro!" 

^The form "talian" is found in Porta, but never "taliana". 

Another hypothesis is that "taliana" is the pronuncation of the Italy's 
j\frican colonies (Abyssinia or Ethiopia), in a typical Gaddian forward allusion to 
Fascist histor)'. Thanks to Emilio Manzotti for this suggestion. 

See appendix for my own draft version of this passage. 

See Livy, The Early History of Rome, 1.10, and Ovid, The Art of Love, Book 1. 

-'Andrea Cortellessa's excellent bibliography of Gaddian studies for only 
1993-4 covers hundreds of pubblications. See 159-242. 

"One was forgetting", Giulio Cattaneo writes, "that Gadda is above all a 
great writer in Italian and that he has not found his salvation, like Basile, in the 
use of Neapolitan... that the very use of Roman dialect in the Pasticciaccio has 
nothing in common with the soundtrack of a neorealist film, but is the tradition 
of an experience that is verbal, syntactic, plastic, imaginative, erudite and labori- 
ous, and which does not even constitute the most vigorous aspect of the book". 
Giulio Cattaneo, "L'affermazione di Gadda", in M. Carlino, A. Mastropasqua, E 
Muzzioli , ed., Gadda progettualità e scrittura, (Roma: Editori Riuniti, 1987), p. 
247. The originai runs: "Si dimenticava che Gadda è prima di tutto un grande scrit- 
tore in lingua e che non ha trovato la sua salvezza come Basile nel napoletano... che lo 
stesso romanesco ^i?/ Pasticciaccio non ha nulla in comune con la colonna sonora di un 
film neorealistica, ma è la tradizione di un'esperienza verbale, sintattica, plastica, 
immaginativa, dotta e laboriosa e non rappresenta nemmeno l'ingrediente piii sapido 
del libro. " 

* -'Piero Celli in his article Sul lessico di Gadda points out that "un'altissima 
percentuale dei lemmi usufruiti dallo scrittore risulta coperta dai sonetti di Belli, 
anche quando la parola non appare registrata dai dizionari romaneschi disponi- 
bili", but warns "Detto ciò, urge deprimere l'impressione di aver considerato il 
romanzo una decalcomania prosastica dell'opus belliano". See Celli 52-77. 



QUADERNI d'italianistica. Volume XXIII, No, 1, 2002, 160 



Digitized by the Internet Arciiive 

in 2009 with funding from 

University of Toronto 



http://www.archive.org/details/quaderniditalian242cana 



♦ ♦ ♦ QUADERNI D'ITALIANISTICA ♦ ♦ ♦ 



VOLUME XXIV, NO 2, 2003 



♦ ARTICOLI ♦ 

GEORGE E BUTLER 

Statius, Lucan, and Dante's Giants: Virgil's Loss of Authority in Inferno 31 5 

ANNE URBANCIC 

Plagiarism or Fantasy: Examining Naja Tripudianshy P\s\me.W\f3Lnn 23 

LUCL\RE 

Valentine de Saint-Point, Ricciotto Canudo, F.T. Marinetti: 

Eroticism, Violence and Feminism from Prewar Paris to Colonial Cairo 37 

BARBARA ZACZEK 

Narrating a Partisan Body: 

Autobiographies of Carla Capponi and Giovanna Zangrandi 71 

STEFANIA LUCAMANTE 

The "Indispensable " Legacy of Primo Levi: 

From Eraldo Affinati to Rosetta Loy between History and Fiction 87 

♦ RECENSIONI ♦ 

Burrow, J.A. Gestures and Looks in Medieval Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge 

University Press, 2002. Pp. xi, 200 

Stephen Powell 105 

Azzetta, Luca. Ordinamenti, provvisioni e riformaggioni del Comune di Firenze vol- 
garizzati da Andrea Lancia (1355-1357). Venezia: Istituto Veneto di Scienze, 
Lettere ed Arti, 2001. Pp. ix, 310. 
Edoardo Fumagalli 106 

Petrarch Francesco. On Religious Leisure. Ed. & trans. Susan S. Shearer, intro. 

Ronald G. Witt. New York: Italica Press, 2002. Pp. xxv, 168. 

Milton Kooistra Ill 

Ariosto Today. Contemporary Perspectives. Eds. Donald Beecher, Massimo 
Ciavolella, Roberto Fedi. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003. Pp. xi, 237. 
Monica Calabritto 112 

Quaderni d'italianistica. Volume XXIV, No, 2, 2003, 1 



Gailucci, Margaret A. Benvenuto Cellini. Sexuality, Masculinity, and Artistic Identity 

in Renaissance Italy. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2003. Pp. xvi, 214. 

Sally Hickson 115 

Art History in the Age of Bellori: Scholarship and Cultural Politics in Seventeenth- 
Century Rome. Eds. Janis Bell ans Thomas Willette. Pp. xvi, 396. 
Sharon Gregory 117 

Scalabrini, Massimo. L'incarnazione del macaronico. Percorsi nel comico folenghiano. 

Bologna: Il Mulino, 2003. Pp. xix, 190. 

ARN4ANDO Maggi 120 

Aleramo, Sibilla. Una donna. Milano: Feltrinelli, 2003. Pp. xxi, 172. 

Folli, Anna. Penne leggère. Neera, Ada Negri, Sibilla Aleramo. Scritture femminili fra 

Otto e Novecento. Milano: Guerini e Associati, 2000. Pp. 253. 

Anne Urbancic 122 

Cesaretti, Enrico. Castelli di carta. Retorica nella dimora tra Scapigliatura e 

Surrealismo. Ravenna: Longo, 2001. Pp. 159. 

Corrado Federici 123 

Minghelli, Giuliana. In the Shadow of the Mammoth: Italo Svevo and the Emergence 
of Modernism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. Pp. 238. 
SorinTomuta 126 

Leake, Elizabeth. The Reinvention of Ignazio Silone. Toronto: University of Toronto 

Press, 2003. Pp. 200. 

John Foote 128 

Torriglia, Anna Maria. Broken Time, Fragmented Space. A Cultural Map of Postwar 

Italy Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. Pp. 239. 

CosettaSeno Reed 129 

D'Angeli, Concetta. Leggere Elsa Morante: Aracœli, La storia. Il mondo salvato dai 

ragazzini. Roma: Carocci, 2003. Pp. 142. 

Stefania Lucamante 132 

Pellegrino, Anna Maria. Diary of a Rapist. Trans. Henry Veggian. Poughkeepsie, 

N.Y.: Vivisphere Publishing, 2001. Pp. 149. 

Corrado Paina 134 

Lepschy, Giulio. Mother Tongues and Other Reflections on the Italian Language. 

Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. Pp. 148. 

Giull\na Salvato 136 



— 2 



Bisaccia, Antonio. Punctum fluens. Comunicazione e movimento tra cinema e arte 

nelle avanguardie storiche. Roma: Meltemi Editore, 2002. Pp. 188. 

Patrick Rumble 138 

Celli, Carlo. The Divine Comic. The Cinema of Roberto Benigni. Lanham, 

Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2001. Pp. 175. 

Rachele Longo Lavorato 142 



— 3 



GEORGE E BUTLER 

STATIUS, LUCAN, AND DANTE'S GIANTS 
VIRGIL'S LOSS OF AUTHORITY IN INFERNO 3\ 



In Dante's Commedia, the classical poet Virgil guides the pilgrim through 
the lower world of the Inferno and helps him ascend Mount Purgatory, but 
part way up the mountain, Virgil's epic successor Statius escorts them, and, 
later, Beatrice continues to lead the wayfarer in the Paradiso. At the begin- 
ning of the Inferno, Virgil's authority goes unquestioned. "Tu se' lo mio 
maestro e '1 mio autore" ("You are my master and my author," Inf. 1.85), 
says the pilgrim, and Virgil is '1'altissimo poeta" ("the great poet," Inf 
4.80). 1 In the Purgatorio, however, Virgil confesses the limits of reason. 
"Quanto ragion qui vede, / dir ti poss'io," he tells the pilgrim; "da indi in 
là t'aspetta / pur a Beatrice, ch'è opra di fede" ("As far as reason sees here I 
can tell you; beyond that wait only for Beatrice, for it is a matter of faith," 
Purg. 18.46-48). Throughout the Commedia, Virgil, as the pagan exemplar 
of reason uninformed by faith, loses his authority. To illustrate Virgil's fal- 
libility, Dante juxtaposes him against other classical poets, most notably his 
epic successors Statius and Lucan. While the reduction of Virgil's authori- 
ty is ongoing, it is particularly interesting in Inferno 3 1 , where the pilgrim 
and his guide prepare to enter the nethermost reaches of Hell. 

Dante was well acquainted with classical literature, and the Commedia 
is an encyclopaedic culmination of his learning.^ To be sure, the poem is 
particularly indebted to Virgil's Aeneid.^ As Peter S. Hawkins observes, 
Dante's borrowings from Virgil's epic, especially in the Inferno, "are so 
abundant that it is impossible to escape the fact that the Commedia is con- 
structed out of its narratives, personae, metaphors, and imperial dream."'* 
However, Dante also admired the works of Statius and Lucan, and he refers 
to both poets throughout the Convivio. In that text he calls Lucan "quello 
grande poeta Lucano" ("that great poet Lucan," 4.28.13), and he praises 
Statius as "lo dolce poeta" ("the sweet poet," 4.25.6). The influence of 
Lucan and Statius on the Commedia is pervasive. Edward Moore calculates 
that Dante quotes or refers to Virgil some 200 times throughout his writ- 
ings, to Lucan around 50, and to Statius between 30 and 40.'' Dante was 
thoroughly familiar with the Thebaid, and Statius' city of Thebes is funda- 

Quaderni d'italianistica. Volume XXIV, No, 2, 2003, 5 



George F. Butler 



mental to his city of Dis.^ On the other hand, Dante's use of Lucan, 
though clear, has received only modest attention. 7 Lucan is among the vir- 
tuous pagans in Limbo. Virgil says to the pilgrim: 

Mira colui con quella spada in mano, 

che vien dinanzi ai tre sì come sire: 
quelli è Omero poeta sovrano; 

l'altro è Orazio satiro che vene; 

Ovidio è 1 terzo, e l'ultimo Lucano. 
[Note him there with sword in hand who comes before the other three as their 
lord. He is Homer, sovereign poet; next is Horace, satirist; Ovid comes third, and 
Lucan last.] {Inf. 4.86-90) 

Dante introduces Lucan and signals that the Pharsalia should be com- 
pared and contrasted with the Commedia. On the one hand, Virgil's state- 
ment describes the chronological order of Lucan in relation to the other 
poets. On the other, it is an ambiguous comment on Lucan's poetic merit. 
Homer might be the first and best of the poets, and Lucan might fall far 
behind him. Or Lucan might be "l'ultimo Lucano" because he builds on 
and transcends the works of his predecessors much as Dante does, and 
Dante's poetic persona is in their midst.^ When Dante writes that the 
transformations experienced by the thieves Cianfa and Agnello {Inf 25 A9- 
96) exceed Lucan's descriptions of the deaths of Sabellus and Nasidius 
{Phars. 9.763-97), he indicates that his poem goes beyond the Pharsalia. 
"Taccia Lucano omai" ("Let Lucan now be silent," /«/^ 25.94), he adds, a 
remark which underscores the superiority of the Commedia. 

Virgil stands in contrast to Statius and Lucan, but in different ways. In 
a move that has attracted considerable scholarly attention, Dante casts 
Statius as a pagan who secretly converted to Christianity {Purg. 22.88-91).^ 
Because he is enlightened by Christian truth, Dante's Statius surpasses the 
poetically superior Virgil. 'o Statius, however, credits Virgil for both his 
poetic achievement and his salvation: "Per te poeta fui, per te distiano" 
("Through you I was a poet, through you a Christian," Purg. llJo). 
Statius is what Virgil might have been, had Virgil been a Christian. 
Because Statius is a Christianized Virgil, he is able to guide Dante's pilgrim 
through Purgatory, a place where classical myth becomes increasingly 
eclipsed by Christian doctrine. While Statius is an evolution and extension 
of Virgil, Lucan is more a competitor. Like Statius, he comes after Virgil 
chronologically. While Virgil tells of the founding of Rome, Lucan's civil 
war epic is an a.nt\-Aeneid about Rome's dissolution. Dante does not make 
Lucan a Christian. However, because he writes after Virgil and, like Dante, 
innovates the epic genre, Lucan poses a challenge to Virgil's authority. 



— 6 



Statius, Lucan, and Dante's Giants 



The journey from Hell to Paradise is one in which Christianity dis- 
places paganism and the vague foreshadowings of classical myth yield to 
the clarity of Christian truth. Because Virgil was a pagan, and because in 
death he is still not fully enlightened, he is not a completely reliable guide 
for the pilgrim. While Dante makes this point most forcefully when Statius 
and Beatrice guide the wayfarer, he also points to Virgil's fallibility as a 
guide in Hell, a realm that is fundamentally Christian in spite of its classi- 
cal elements. When Virgil and the pilgrim cross Styx and approach the wall 
of the city of Dis, a mob of fallen angels prevents them from entering {Inf. 
8.82-93). Virgil tells the pilgrim that the demons may not deny them 
access, since God has willed otherwise {Inf. 8.103-105). The Latin poet 
speaks to the demons privately but unpersuasively, and they shut the gates 
of Dis in his face {Inf. 8.112-17). Virgil announces that an angel must 
open the gates for them {Inf. 8.128-30), and the Latin poet's usual elo- 
quence changes to nervous babbling: 

"Pur a noi converrà vincer la punga," 

cominciò el, "se non . . . Tal ne s'offerse. 

Oh quanto tarda a me ch'altri qui giunga!" 
["Yet we must win this fight," he began, "or else . . . such did she offer herself to 
us! Oh, how long to me it seems till someone come!"] {Inf. 9.7-9) 

When the angelic messenger arrives, "Venne a la porta e con una 
verghetta / l'aperse, che non v'ebbe alcun ritegno " ("He came to the gate, and 
with a little wand he opened it, and there was no resistance," Inf. 9.89-90). 
Unlike the pagan Virgil, the angel effortlessly gains access to Dis. Virgil 
explains that the demons have previously tried to deny access to Hell: 

Questa lor tracotanza non è nova; 

che già l'usaro a men segreta porta, 

la qual sanza serrarne ancor si trova. 
[This insolence of theirs is nothing new, for they showed it once at a less secret 
gate, which still stands without a bolt.] {Inf. 8.124-26) 

As commentators have noted, Dante is alluding to Christ's harrowing 
of Hell. Virgil elsewhere reveals that he witnessed Christ's descent {Inf. 
4.52-63, 12.34-45), and as Hawkins has discussed at length, Dante uses 
the motif of the harrowing of Hell to contrast Virgil and Christ." 

In describing Virgil's inability to enter Dis without divine assistance, 
Dante points to the limited power of the classical author. Virgil's incapac- 
ity is matched by his limited knowledge, perception, and comprehension. 
As he stares into Dis, he is unable to see and has trouble finding his way: 



George F. Butler 



Attento si fermò com' uom ch'ascolta; 

che l'occhio noi potea menare a lunga 

per l'aere nero e per la nebbia folta. 
[He stopped attentive, like a man that listens, for his eye could not lead him far 
through the dark air and the dense fog.] {Inf. 9.4-6) 

His inability to perceive his surroundings is noteworthy, since Dante's 
description of the area surrounding Dis strongly evokes the Aeneid. The 
walls seem to be made of iron {Inf. 8.78), there is a high tower {Inf. 9.35- 
36), and the three Furies appear {Inf. 9.37-51). In the Aeneid, Virgil simi- 
larly writes: 

Respicit Aeneas subito et sub rupe sinistra 

moenia lata videt, triplici circumdata muro, 

quae rapidus flammis ambit torrentibus amnis, 

Tartareus Phlegethon, torquetque sonantia saxa. 

porta adversa, ingens, solidoque adamante columnae, 

vis ut nulla virum, non ipsi exscindere bello 

caelicolae valeant; stat ferrea turris ad auras, 

Tisiphoneque sedens, palla succincta cruenta, 

vestibulum exsomnis servar noctesque diesque. 
[Suddenly Aeneas looks back, and under a cliff on the left sees a broad castle, girt 
with triple wall and encircled with a rushing flood of torrent flames — Tartarean 
Phlegethon, that rolls along thundering rocks. In front stands the huge gate, and 
pillars of solid adamant, that no might of man, nay, not even the sons of heaven, 
may uproot in war; there stands the iron tower, soaring high, and Tisiphone, sit- 
ting girt with bloody pall, keeps sleepless watch o'er the portal night and day.] 
{Aen. 6.548-56) 

Aeneas, however, never actually looks upon the torments of the 
damned. Instead, the Sibyl describes their punishments and explains to 
Aeneas: 

dux incinte Teucrum, 

nulli fas casto sceleratum insistere limen; 

sed me cum lucis Hecate praefecit Avernis, 

ipsa deum poenas docuit perque omnia duxit. 
[Famed chieftain of the Teucrians, no pure soul may tread the accursed threshold; 
but when Hecate set me over the groves of Avernus, she taught me the gods' penal- 
ties and guided me through all.] {Aen. 6.562-65) 

The passage is significant, for Aeneas does not venture into Tartarus 
and Virgil does not offer a detailed account of that place in his epic. For 
Dante, Virgil lacks first-hand knowledge of Tartarus and is thus confused 
when he approaches Dis. 



Statius, Lucan, and Dante's Giants 



Rather than admit to being lost, Virgil seeks to reassure Dante's dis- 
traught pilgrim. He tells him that he thoroughly knows the way through 
Hell, since he has made the journey before: 

Ver è ch'altra fiata qua giù fiii, 

congiurato da quella Eritón cruda 

che richiamava l'ombre a' corpi sui. 
Di poco era di me la carne nuda, 

ch'ella mi fece intrar dentr' a quel muro, 

per trarne un spirto del cerchio di Giuda. 
Queir è '1 più basso loco e '1 più oscuro, 

e '1 più lontan dal ciel che tutto gira: 

ben so '1 cammin; però ti fa sicuro. 
[It is true that once before I was down here, conjured by that cruel Erichtho who 
was wont to call back shades into their bodies. My flesh had been but short while 
divested of me, when she made me enter within that wall to draw forth a spirit 
from the circle of Judas. That is the lowest place, and the darkest, and farthest 
from the heaven that encircles all. Well do I know the way, so reassure yourself] 
{Inf. 9.22-30) 

Dante creates an intertextual contest between Virgil's Aeneid and 
Lucan's Pharsalia, for Virgil anachronistically alludes to Erictho, the necro- 
mantic witch of Lucan's epic. But Lucan does not tell the story of Erictho 
summoning Virgil from the dead. In his note on the passage, Singleton 
remarks that the tale may have been suggested to Dante by various 
medieval legends depicting Virgil as a necromancer. '2 Dante's modern 
commentators, however, generally agree that he invented the legend.'-^ The 
erroneous nature of the allusion suggests that Virgil is fabricating the tale, 
and that he really has not witnessed the depths of Hell before. 

Lucan, however, has made that voyage, and so his text struggles against 
the Aeneid as part of the background of Dante's Hell. In the Pharsalia, 
Erictho prepares to practice necromancy for Pompey's son and his com- 
panions. She says to them: 

Si vero Stygiosque lacus ripamque sonantem 

Ignibus ostendam, si me praebente videri 

Eumenides possint villosaque colla colubris 

Cerberus excutiens et vincti terga gigantes 

Quis timor, ignavi, metuentes cernere manes? 
[Even if I were to display the pools of Styx and the bank that crackles with fire — 
if my consent should bring before your eyes the Furies, and Cerberus shaking his 
mane of snakes, and the chained bodies of the Giants, why dread, ye cowards, to 
behold the dead who fear me?] {Phars. 6.662-66) 

— 9 — 



George F. Butler 



Erictho describes some of the features of the underworld, including its 
Stygian waters and fiery shores, horrid monsters, and shackled Giants. 
While she does not discuss the lower world in detail, she nonetheless dis- 
plays her familiarity with it. By stressing to Pompey's son that such won- 
ders can be made visible to them through her consent, rather than through 
chance, she makes clear that she has power over the infernal region. She 
calls Pompeius Sextus and his companions cowards for being afraid of the 
dead, and she indicates that the dead are afraid of her. Thus she stresses the 
scope of her authority. She emerges as a figure far more menacing than the 
Virgilian Sibyl of Cumae.'"* While the Sibyl will help Aeneas descend to the 
underworld to consult with the dead, Erictho will bring the dead out of the 
classical Hell and into the land of the living. 

While Lucan creatively engages and opposes AeneidG in his account of 
Erictho's necromancy, Statius also imitates Virgil's narrative. But unlike 
Lucan, Statius does not react against Virgil's text. In the Thebaid, the seer 
Manto tells her father Tiresias: 

panditur Elysium chaos, et telluris opertae 

dissilit umbra capax, silvaeque et nigra patescunt 

flumina, liventes Acheron eiectat harenas. 

fumidus atra vadis Phlegethon incendia volvit, 

et Styx discretis interflua manibus obstat. 

ipsum pallentem solio circumque ministras 

funestorum operum Eumenidas Srygiaeque severos 

lunonis thalamos et torva cubilia cerno. 
[The Elysian void is flung open, the spacious shadows of the hidden region are 
rent, the groves and black rivers lie clear to view, and Acheron belches forth noi- 
some mud. Smoky Phlegethon rolls down his streams of murky flame, and Styx 
interfluent sets a barrier to the sundered ghosts. Himself I behold, all pale upon 
his throne, with Furies ministering to his fell deeds about him, and the remorse- 
less chambers and gloomy couch of Stygian Juno.] ( Theb. 4.520-27) 

Manto's vision lacks the horror of Erictho's description of the under- 
world, chiefly because Manto is not evil. She recounts the rivers of the clas- 
sical Hell in greater detail than Lucan's Erictho, and like her counterpart 
from the Pharsalia, she mentions the Furies. But her vision is more sad 
than frightening, and her audience is her father, not Pompey's fearfiil son. 
In fact, the lower world is so commonplace that Tiresias asks Manto not to 
tell him about the punishments of Tityos, Ixion, and the other famous 
mythological sinners, since their sufferings are so well known {Theb. 
4.536-40). He then adds: 



10 



Statius, Lucan, and Dante's Giants 



ipse etiam, melior cum sanguis, opertas 

inspexi sedes, Hecate ducente, priusquam 

obruit ora deus totamque in pectora lucem 

detulit. 
[I myself in the years of stronger manhood beheld the hidden realms with Hecate 
as my guide, before heaven whelmed my vision, and drew all my light within my 
mind.] {Theb. AMO-Aò) 

For Tiresias, the wonders of the underworld are nothing new. He knew 
them fully when he was a young man, and while his daughter describes the 
lower world to him now, the queen of the netherworld taught him the 
mysteries of that region before. 

The infernal descents of the Aeneid, the Pharsalia, and the Thebaid 
form the background of the descent to Hell in the Commedia. In Inferno 
3 1 , Virgil and Dante's pilgrim prepare to descend to Judecca, the lowest 
part of Hell. Their descent corresponds with their earlier journey to the 
walls of Dis, and Dante again stresses the ignorance and confusion of the 
travellers. 15 Like Virgil, who is blinded by the dark air and dense fog at the 
entrance to Dis, the pilgrim's vision is confounded. He initially mistakes 
the giants of Hell for towers, because he cannot see them clearly and is 
unable to differentiate them {Inf. 31.21-45).^'' And like Virgil, who bab- 
bles at the gates of Dis, much to the pilgrim's dismay (/«/^ 9.7- 15), Nimrod 
speaks in an unintelligible language (/«/^ 3 1.67-81). While Dante describes 
Nimrod at length, his description primarily elucidates the giant's size. He 
says that Nimrod's face seems as large as the pinecone of St. Peter's; that 
three Frieslanders would have trouble reaching his hair; and that thirty 
great spans of him are visible below the place where a man buckles his 
cloak {Inf. 31.58-66). Each comparison emphasizes Nimrod's enormity, 
but Dante does not clearly say how large Nimrod is.^^ 

After their meeting with Nimrod, Virgil and Dante's pilgrim 
encounter the giants Ephialtes and Antaeus, and Virgil tells his companion 
that Briareus resembles Ephialtes, though Briareus is further on and more 
ferocious in appearance {Inf. 31.103-105). Virgil additionally mentions 
Tityus and Typhon, thus suggesting that they are also among the giants in 
Hell (/«/T 31.124). The giants are buried from the waist down {Inf. ò\.ò\- 
33, 44-45). Dante's Ephialtes is bound in chains {Inf 31.85-90), and Virgil 
explains that Briareus is similarly fettered {Inf 31.105-105). 

The pilgrim tells Virgil that he wants to see "smisurato Brïareo" 
("immense Briareus," Inf 31.98). As Dante's commentators have often 
remarked, his language recalls Statius' description of "immensus Briareus" 
("Briareus vast in bulk," Theb. 2.596). A less frequently noted point is that 
Dante uses "le ritorte" to signify Ephialtes' chains {Inf 3 1 . 1 1 1 ), a term that 

— 11 — 



George F. Butler 



evokes a passage from Statius' description of the underworld: 

quid tibi monstra Èrebi, Scyllas et inane furentes 

Centaures solidoque intorta adamante Gigantum 

vincula et angustam centeni Aegaeonis umbram? 
[Why should I tell thee of Hell's monsters, of Scyllas and the empty rage of 
Centaurs, and the Giants' twisted chains of solid adamant, and the diminished 
shade of hundredfold Aegaeon?] {Theb. 4.533-35)^^ 

These words are spoken by the seer Manto to Tiresias. In engaging this 
passage from the Thebaid, Dante creates an intertextual relationship 
between Statius' epic and the Inferno. The Italian poet hints that Statius 
glimpsed the truth of the giants' twisted shackles in the Thebaid, and the 
lines from the Thebaid work with the Christian wayfarer's Statian mention 
of "smisurato Briareo" {Inf 5\ .9S) to suggest the authority of Statius' non- 
Virgilian classical text. 

The reference to "smisurato Brïareo" {Inf 51.98) and its evocation of 
Statius' "immensus Briareus" {Theb. 2.596) invites a comparison between 
the giant of Inferno 31 and the fierce monster of the Thebaid. In the cor- 
responding passage from Statius' poem, the warrior Tydeus fights like 
Briareus at the battle of Phlegra: 

non aliter — Geticae si fas est credere Phlegrae — 

armatum immensus Briareus stetit aethera contra, 

hinc Phoebi pharetras, hinc torvae Pallados anguis, 

inde Pelethroniam praefixa cuspide pinum 

Martis, at hinc lasso mutata Pyracmone temnens 

fulmina, cum toto nequiquam obsessus Olympo 

tot queritur cessare manus. 
[Not otherwise — if Getic Phlegra be worthy credence — stood Briareus vast in bulk 
against embattled heaven, contemning on this hand Phoebus' quiver, on that the 
serpents of stern Pallas, here Mars' Pelethronian pinewood shaft, with point of 
iron, and yonder the thunderbolts oft changed for new by weary Pyracmon, and 
yet complaining, though combatted in vain by all Olympus, that so many hands 
were idle.] {Theb. 2.595-601) 

Statius' Briareus is rebellious, proud, and apparently on the verge of 
victory, for in this passage the Latin poet does not allude to the giant's 
defeat. However, the beginning of the simile raises questions about the nar- 
rative that follows, since Statius says that the account is reliable "Geticae si 
fas est credere Phlegrae" ("if Getic Phlegra be worthy credence," Theb. 
2.595). And as Statius and his readers would have known, Briareus was 
eventually defeated by Zeus and the Olympian gods. 

Like Statius, Dante also questions the truth behind the mythic 
batde of Phlegra. Dante's pilgrim says to Virgil: 

— 12 — 



Statius, Lucan, and Dante's Giants 



S'esser puote, io vorrei 

che de lo smisurato Briareo 

esperienza avesser li occhi mei. 
[If it were possible, I should wish my eyes might have experience of the immense 
Briareus.] (/«/ 31.97-99) 

The pilgrim begins by questioning the possibility of such an 
encounter. While the passage superficially means that Dante's wayfarer 
wants to see the monster, the poets language suggests something stronger. 
The pilgrim wants to experience the monster, albeit through his own eyes, 
and his request shows that he wants to gain greater understanding of the 
classical myth. Virgil replies: 

Tu vedrai Anteo 

presso di qui che parla ed è disciolto, 

che ne porrà nel fondo d'ogne reo. 
Quel che tu vuo' veder, più là è molto 

ed è legato e fatto come questo, 

salvo che più feroce par nel volto. 
[Hard by here you shall see Antaeus, who speaks and is unfettered, and he will put 
us down into the bottom of all guilt. He whom you wish to see is much farther 
on, and he is bound and fashioned like this one, except that he seems more fero- 
cious in his look.] (/«/ 31.100-105) 

Virgil explains that the hundred-handed monster of classical myth is 
really anthropomorphic. Dante's pilgrim, and the reader, must rely on 
Virgil's words, since the pilgrim and his guide do not actually look upon 
Briareus. So too, Virgil engages in a confused redirection of the pilgrim's 
attention. Rather than answer Dante's query about Briareus, Virgil initial- 
ly mentions Antaeus. But then he contrasts Antaeus and Briareus, since he 
says that Antaeus is able to speak and is unchained, while Briareus is 
chained like Ephialtes. He further complicates his answer by saying that 
Briareus is not quite like Ephialtes. Instead, Briareus, according to Dante's 
Virgil, seems more ferocious. The pilgrim does not pursue the matter fur- 
ther, but Virgil's comment could fuel his eagerness to see the more fero- 
cious Briareus, rather than diminish his interest. 

While the wayfarer does not actually encounter Briareus in Hell, he 
later sees the giant sculpted on a paving stone in Purgatory: 

Vedëa Briareo fìtto dal telo 

celestial giacer, da l'altra parte, 

grave a la terra per lo mortai gelo. 
Vedea Timbreo, vedea Pallade e Marte, 

armati ancora, intorno al padre loro, 
— 13 — 



George F. Butler 



mirar le membra d'i Giganti sparre. 
[I saw Briareus, on the other side, pierced by the celestial bolt, lying heavy on the 
ground in mortal chill. I saw Thymbraeus, I saw Pallas and Mars, still armed, 
around their father, gazing on the scattered limbs of the giants.] {Purg. 12.28-33) 

Dante's pilgrim learns the true fate of Briareus, as the paving stone 
shows the conclusion of the myth alluded to by Statius. As in the Inferno, 
Dante does not clearly reveal the physical nature of the giant. Though 
Briareus is shown pierced by a thunderbolt, Dante does not say how many 
heads and arms the giant had. He teasingly mentions the scattered limbs of 
the giants, but he gives no hint how many limbs there are. Indeed, the lit- 
eral truth of the carving is questionable, since Thymbraeus, Pallas, and 
Mars stand around Jove. These are the gods of pagan polytheism and can- 
not be part of a literal rendering of Christian truth. Because the death of 
Briareus is depicted in terms of classical myth, even if Dante were to spec- 
ify that the giants carved on the stone had a hundred arms, such a repre- 
sentation would be only a figurative representation of Christian teaching. 

In Thebaid A.'bòò-ò'b , Statius similarly reveals the outcome of the battle 
at Phlegra. Briareus, or Aegaeon, is a diminshed shade in the underworld, 
and Statius links the monster with the other giants, who are bound in twist- 
ed chains of solid adamant. Thus when Dante evokes Thebaid A.'b'bò-ò'b 
through his reference to Ephialtes being bound ("le ritorte," Inf.òX.W 1), he 
additionally associates Ephialtes with Briareus, since Statius refers to both the 
giants and Briareus in his corresponding passage from the Thebaid. In doing 
so, Dante reinforces Virgil's claim that Briareus is bound and fashioned like 
Ephialtes. When Dante describes Ephialtes, he provides little detail about the 
giant and instead discusses how Ephialtes is shackled {Inf. 31.85-96). He 
then says that Briareus resembles Ephialtes (/«/ 31.97-105). 

Antaeus is closely related to Dante's Briareus. When the pilgrim asks 
to see Briareus, Virgil mentions Antaeus, whom he says is unfettered {Inf. 
31.97-102). Virgil then returns to the matter of Briareus, whom he says is 
bound like Ephialtes (/«/31.103-105). Thus Dante contrasts Briareus and 
Antaeus. He then gives his extended account of Antaeus {Inf \\1A5). 
Dante links Antaeus with the batde of Phlegra. Virgil says to the giant: 

O tu che ne la fortunata valle 

che fece Scipïon di gloria reda, 

quand' Anibàl co' suoi diede le spalle, 
recasti già mille leon per preda, 

e che, se fossi stato a l'alta guerra 

de' tuoi fratelli, ancor par che si creda 
ch'avrebber vinto i figli de la terra: 
— 14 — 



Statius, Lucan, and Dante's Giants 



mettine giù, e non ten vegna schifo, 

dove Cocito la freddura serra. 
Non ci fare ire a Tizio né a Tifo. 
[O you that, in the fateful valley which made Scipio heir of glory, when Hannibal 
with his followers turned his back, did once take for prey a thousand lions, and 
through whom, had you been at the high war of your brothers, it seems that some 
still believe the sons of earth would have conquered, set us down below — and dis- 
dain not to do so — where the cold locks up Cocytus. Do not make us go to Tityus 
nor to Typhon.] {Inf. 31.11 5-24) 

In noting that Antaeus was absent at Phlegra and in revealing that the 
giants lost that battle, Dante links Antaeus with Briareus, who was at 
Phlegra and whose battered corpse is depicted on the pavement stone of 
Purgatory. 

As Dante's commentators have long noted, the myth of Antaeus allud- 
ed to in Inferno 31 comes from Lucan's Pharsaliay^ So too, in the Convivio 
Dante cites Lucan as one of his sources for the myth of the fight between 
Antaeus and Hercules (3.3.7), a myth which Virgil conveniently ignores in 
the Commedia. Lucan writes: 

Nondum post genitos Tellus effeta gigantas 

Terribilem Libycis partum concepit in antris. 

Nee tam iusta fuit terrarum gloria Typhon 

Aut Tityos Briareusque ferox; caeloque pepercit. 

Quod non Phlegraeis Antaeum sustulit arvis. 
[Even after the birth of the Giants Earth was not past bearing, and she conceived 
a fearsome offspring in the caves of Libya. She had more cause to boast of him 
than of Typhon or Tityos and fierce Briareus; and she dealt mercifully with the 
gods when she did not raise up Antaeus on the field of Phlegra.] {Phars. 4.593-97) 

When Virgil tells Antaeus not to make him and the pilgrim seek Tityus 
or Typhon {Inf. ò\ AIA) , Dante recalls Lucan's remark that Earth had more 
reason to boast of Antaeus than of Typhon or Tityos. While Dante's 
engagement with Lucan's epic is clear, Virgil's possible allusion to the 
Pharsalia is less certain. In saying that some still believe that had Antaeus 
been present at Phlegra the giants would have overcome the gods {Inf. 
31.120-21), Virgil might be alluding to Lucan as one of those believers, or 
he might just be recounting a more general idea. ]VIoreover, Lucan does not 
actually say that the giants would have won the war with Antaeus' help; he 
says only that Antaeus would have made the battle more challenging. 
Unless Dante is again being intentionally anachronistic, Virgil would not 
know that he is echoing Lucan's text. And if Virgil is not intentionally 
alluding to Lucan, then Lucan's Pharsalia is part of the hidden truth of 

— 15 — 



George F. Butler 



Hell. Dante once again has Virgil engage in an intertextual struggle with 
Lucan, in which Virgil unknowingly affirms the truth presented in Lucan's 
poem. 

Antaeus is linked with Briareus in the Pharsalia, and their relationship 
reinforces Dante's association of Briareus with Antaeus in the Inferno. 
Lucan refers to "Briareusque ferox" {Phars. 4.596). Virgil likewise tells 
Dante's pilgrim that compared to Ephialtes, Briareus is "più feroce par nel 
volto" {Inf. 31.105). Because Dante mentions Antaeus shortly before his 
reference to Briareus' ferocious appearance, he recalls Lucan, who says that 
Antaeus was more worthy of Earth's boasting than fierce Briareus was. So 
too, Virgil writes that Aeneas slays a soldier named Antaeus {Aen. 10.561). 
Virgil's reference to Antaeus in the Aeneid is almost immediately followed 
by his comparison of Aeneas to Aegaeon (Briareus) {Aen. 10.565-70), and 
thus Antaeus is further linked with Briareus. Virgil's Aeneas, who resem- 
bles Briareus in his martial rage, seems more ferocious than Antaeus, since 
he defeats the human soldier of that name. Thus Dante cleverly has the 
Aeneid contradict the Pharsalia, while the Commedia bears out the truth of 
Lucan's text. 

In telling the pilgrim that Briareus is anthropomorphic, Virgil admits 
that his account of the hundred-handed monster in Aeneid 10.565-70 is a 
fable. But Virgil's account of Aeneas fighting like Briareus in Aeneid 1 is 
the model for Statins' account of Tydeus fighting like Briareus in Thebaid 
2, and this is the passage that Dante invokes when the pilgrim speaks of 
"smisurato Brïareo" (/«/S 1.98). Virgil's reply to the pilgrim's request to see 
Briareus is an attempt to crush the pilgrim's curiosity. However, since 
Dante never tells us what Briareus really looks like, Virgil may or may not 
be telling the truth when he says that Briareus is human in form. Perhaps 
Briareus really does have a hundred hands, since some of Dante's creatures 
really are grotesque: Minos has a tail {Inf. 5.1 1), Cerberus has three heads 
(/«/'6.13-33), the Centaurs really are part man and part horse {Inf\2.52- 
96), and Geryon has the face of a just man and the trunk of a snake {Inf 
17.1-27). In dismissing the pilgrim's request to see Briareus, Virgil also dis- 
misses Statins, whose language the pilgrim echoes. 

In the Inferno, Virgil creates a text for Dante's pilgrim. That text draws 
upon and engages the Aeneid, the Thebaid, and the Pharsalia. In telling the 
pilgrim that Briareus is bound and fashioned like Ephialtes, Virgil com- 
poses a new text which corrects his account of the hundred-handed mon- 
ster OÏ Aeneid 10. In responding impatiently to the pilgrim's request to see 
the Statian "smisurato Brïareo" / "immensus Briareus" who, like Ephialtes, 
is presumably fettered by the Statian "le ritorte" / "intorta vincula," Virgil 

— 16 — 



Statius, Lucan, and Dante's Giants 



similarly confronts the epic of his allegedly Christian poetic successor and 
summarily dismisses it. In alluding to Erictho and saying to Antaeus that 
some believed that the giants would have defeated the gods at Phlegra had 
Antaeus been present there, Virgil expands upon Lucan's later epic and 
subtly criticizes it. But because Dante makes clear that Virgil is neither 
omniscient nor infallible, Virgil's responses to the Aeneid, Thebaid, and 
Pharsalia are unreliable. Dante has Virgil engage in an intertextual contest 
with Statius and Lucan to undermine Virgil's authority. Because Dante 
presents Statius as a Christian, he suggests that at times the Thebaid may 
convey truth more accurately than the Aeneid. Thus whenever Virgil con- 
tradicts the mythic vision of Statius, he leaves himself open to doubt. 
Virgil's relation to the pagan poet Lucan, however, is more complex. 
Though Lucan may rank behind Virgil as a poet, as Dante's reference to 
"l'ultimo Lucano" implies {Inf. 4.90), Virgil's fellow denizen of Limbo is 
sometimes more reliable than the author of the Aeneid. By comparing the 
poet of the Aeneid to the poet of the 2inû-Aeneid, Dante underscores 
Virgil's fallibility. Like the pilgrim, we cannot see clearly into the recesses 
of Hell, even with Virgil as our guide. While Dante calls into question the 
classical foreshadowings of Christian teaching, he also cautions against the 
uncritical acceptance of mortal corrections of the ancient texts. In doing 
so, he underscores the limits of human attempts to understand divine 
truth. 



Fairfield, Connecticut 



NOTES 

^Dante's Commedia is cited parenthetically from Singleton's edition. 

^See Baranski, Dante e i segni, for an overview of Dante's intellectual devel- 
opment. 

^Scholarship on Dante's use of Virgil is extensive. Some recent studies include 
Consoli, Significato del Virgilio dantesco; Guardini, "La figura di Virgilio nella 
Commedia; Hollander, // Virgilio dantesco and "Le opere di Virgilio"; Shapiro, 
"Virgilian Representation in Dante." 

'^Hawkins, "For the Record," 75. On the other hand, Burrow remarks that 
Dante shows little interest in imitating Virgil's narrative structure and compact 
style ("Virgils, from Dante to Milton," 82). 

^Moore, Studies in Dante, 4. For a brief discussion of Dante and the classical 
canon, see Picone, "Dante and the Classics." 

'^Lewis, "Dante's Statius"; Martinez, "Dante, Statius and the Earthly City"; 
Stephany, "Statius. " 

— 17 — 



George F. Butler 



^Schnapp, "Lucanian Estimations." For more on Dante's use of Lucan, see 
Paratore, Dante e Lucano. 

^De Angelis, V. "... E l'ultimo Lucano." 

^For discussions of Dante's presentation of Statius as a Christian, see Pézard, 
"Rencontres de Dante et de Stace"; Brugnoli, "Statius Christianus " and "Stazio in 
Dante"; Franke, "Resurrected Tradition and Revealed Truth: Dante's Statius"; 
Renucci, Dante, Disciple et Juge du Monde Gréco-Latin, 334; Scrivano, "Stazio per- 
sonaggio, poeta e cristiano." 

^"For a summary of Statius' standing in relation to Virgil, see Barolini, 
Dante's Poets, 256-269. 

^^ Hawkins, Dante's Testaments, 99-124. 

^^For Virgil's medieval reputation, see Comparetti, Vergil in the Middle Ages. 

^-'See the notes in the editions by Giacalone, Musa, Durling and Martinez, 
and Hollander. Hollander, Studies in Dante, 178-180, suggests that if there is a jus- 
tification for the tale, it should be sought in Lucan. See also Brownlee, "Dante and 
the Classical Poets," 1 10. 

''*See Masters, Poetry and Civil War, 179-215, for an overview of Lucan's 
Erictho and Virgil's Sibyl. As Masters notes, Lucan both draws on the Aeneid linà. 
opposes it. 

' -* Virgil's fallibility is especially evident in Inferno 20. Kleiner remarks: "Virgil 
presents five seers in Inferno 20 derived from four different Latin epics, and in 
every case he either mistakes the tone of the text he is citing or contradicts some 
basic fact" {Mismapping the Underworld, 64). Hollander argues that Dante delib- 
erately misrepresents the classical text ("Dante's Misreadings," 77-93). 

'"For the importance of the tower as a governing motif in Inferno 31, see 
Kleinhenz, "Dante's Towering Giants." 

^'Kleiner analyzes the measurements Dante provides and demonstrates their 
conRising and contradictory nature ("Dante's Towering Giants," 45-47). Chiari 
argues that the dimensions are meant to be poetic rather than mathematically pre- 
cise ( II canto XXXL dell'Inferno, 17). 

^°Dronke says: "I do not know if it has been remarked that his term for the giants' 
chains, le ritorte (XXXI 111) is likewise Statian {Theb. IV 534f: intorta . . . vinculo)" 
(Dante and Medieval Latin Traditions, 134 n. 18). Moore does not cite this parallel in 
his Studies in Dante, First Series. Pietro Alighieri, Guido da Pisa, Bernardino Daniello 
da Lucca, Grandgent, Scartazzini, Singleton, Sapegno, Giacalone, Durling and 
Martinez, Hollander, and Musa do not note this parallel in their commentaries. 
Daniello, Singleton, Sapegno, and Musa observe that "ritorte" appears again in Inferno 
19.27, where Dante describes the punishment of Pope Nicholas III. 

^Dante's son Pietro Alighieri, for example, discusses Lucan's Antaeus at 
length in his fourteenth-century commentary on the Commedia ("super XXXI 
capi tu lo Inferni," 261). 



Statius, Lucan, and Dante's Giants 



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— 22 — 



ANNE URBANCIC 

PLAGIARISM OR FANTASY: 
EXAMINING NAJA TRIPUDIANSm AnnW.WVNNT\ 



It is late December 1920. Elizabeth Robins (1862-1952) has received a 
rather worrisome letter to which she feels she must react. Elizabeth is at her 
home in Bath where she is working on a series of pro-feminist comments 
on the enormously popular World War I memoirs of Colonel Repington. 
She has also rekindled her interest in a novel she had started in 1919, Time 
Is Whispering. And while the first work would remain unpublished, the sec- 
ond, the novel, will become another fundamental piece of contemporary 
feminist writing, along with her subsequent book of essays, Ancillas Share: 
An Indictment of Sex Antagonism (1924). Elizabeth, widow of George 
Parks, is well known: a poet, actress, playwright, essayist, well-travelled, 
published in England and the USA, she is almost 60 now; she has been ill 
through the autumn of 1920, recovering from complications suffered from 
dental work. 

Perhaps she does not remember the sender of the letter. ' He seems to 
think that she will not, and thus he reminds her that he had had the plea- 
sure of accompanying her to dinner many years before, at the home of a 
mutual friend. He identifies himself as Malcolm Mcllwraith and he writes 
not to renew an acquaintance but to warn her that he has recently read an 
Italian novel which, as he writes in his note, "bears extraordinary resem- 
blance to your own story. Where Are Yon Going /^....■'published in 1913.2 
"Indeed", he continues, "the similarity not only with the main situation 
itself but with many of its incidents is so striking that it seems difficult to 
believe it can be a mere coincidence." (26 December 1920) 

The word 'plagiarism' remains unsaid, although Mcllwraith indicates 
that Elizabeth might wish to read the book for herself He provides her 
with all the necessary information. It is an Italian novel of which he speaks, 
entitled Naja Tripudians, published that same year in Florence by 
Bemporad. It is written by Madame Annie Vivanti (1866-1942),^ who like 
Elizabeth is also well known: a poet, actress, playwright, essayist, well-trav- 
elled, published in England and the USA. She is, at the time of 

Quaderni d'italianistica, Volume XXIV, No, 2, 2003, 23 



Anne Urbancic 



Mcllwraith's letter, also one of the best selling authors in Italy, since she 
writes also in Italian.^ 

Annie Vivanti had spent the summer of 1920 completing Naja 
Tripudians in Pecetto, near Torino, where she had taken up residence.5 
Despite their collaboration at the Paris Peace Conference, where she 
appeared on behalf of the Irish delegates, it seems that by now she and her 
husband, John Chartres, a London barrister and a Sinn Feiner, regularly 
spent a great deal of time apart.*^ She was involved mostly in literary activ- 
ities; surrounded by numerous friends (as was Elizabeth), she was by now 
not only the doting mother of the former child violinist Vivien, but also 
the grandmother of Vivien's children. John, on the other hand, concerned 
himself deeply in pro-Irish matters, fighting the irredentist cause for 
Ireland. Certainly, with his wife, he was involved in promoting strongly an 
anti-British sentiment.'' 

We do not know if Elizabeth accepted or not Malcom Mcllwraith's 
suggestion to lend her his copy of Vivanti's novel. We are unaware whether 
or not she read Italian. However, by mid January of 1921 she must have 
gathered enough information to decide that she would like to receive legal 
advice in the matter of proceeding with litigation for plagiarism. The cor- 
respondence regarding this affair is an interesting one and consists of twen- 
ty-one letters and their relative enclosures from Mcllwraith, from her pub- 
lisher Heinemann, from Mr. Thring, the legal counsel of the Incorporated 
Society of Authors, Playwrights and Composers in London, from two 
independent appraisers, one anonymous and one whose name seems to be 
Sabatini, and from one of Elizabeth's closest friends, Florence Bell. None 
of the letters is from Elizabeth herself; nor is there among these files corre- 
spondence with Annie Vivanti, either to her or from her.^ In these letters 
we have the story of the plagiarism accusation as it unfolded chronologi- 
cally between December 1920 and October 1921. This paper will examine 
the two novels which are at the centre of the legal investigation, as well as 
describe the circumstances which led to the writing of Robins' work, and 
propose some reasons for the existence of Vivanti's work. Finally, the study 
will also describe the outcome of the plagiarism investigation. 

Where are You Going To...?\s the British title for the novel better known 
as My Little Sister. It is the story of two young women who live in the 
English countryside with their widowed mother. They are poor but gen- 
teel, and their invalid mother aspires to introduce them to upper class 
friends and acquaintances. Throughout the novel, it is clear that, despite 
their economic situation, they represent the best of true British society. 
Most of the novel revolves around the mother's attempts to protect her 

— 24 — 



Plagiarism or Fantasy 



daughters from the real world, hoping that they will meet and marry some- 
one of a proper station in life. She herself is a housebound invalid, who 
uses guilt to keep her daughters as close to home as possible and as far away 
from a corrupting education as possible. The unnamed older girl, who nar- 
rates the story, gives in to the mother. Her acts of rebellion are undertaken 
in secret. For example, she harbours deep feelings for the young Scottish 
doctor, Eric Annan, who attends to the mother, and eventually she declares 
herself to him. She also secretly studies medicine, in the hopes of becom- 
ing a woman doctor.^ When mother discovers the studies, the young 
woman is forced to put her books aside. There is a younger sister, Bettina, 
who is rather immature, an outgoing flirt who openly defies mother, stays 
out late, kisses strange young men who come to visit, but is generally for- 
given all her transgressions because of her vivacious deportment and her 
beauty. The mother herself half hides a deep secret, never quite revealed, 
but alluded to often enough in the presence of the older daughter to make 
the reader aware that she is referring to being sexually abused as a child. 
The mother lives beyond her means; eventually she decides to turn to a rel- 
ative of her late husband. Aunt Josephine, in London, to give the girls a 
season in the city to introduce them to marriageable young men of a desir- 
able class. The family spends its money on providing a proper wardrobe for 
the two girls; a French seamstress is hired to sew for them. The mother, 
with her British superiority and clearly delineated xenophobia, makes it 
evident enough that the seamstress is not desirable company. Bettina, on 
the other hand, makes the French woman her confidante, showing her 
Aunt Josephine's picture, and then misplacing it. Soon after, the girls go to 
London. At the train station they are met by a woman posing as their aunt. 
She is in fact a procuress for the white slave trade. Unknowingly, they are 
taken to the house, dressed wonderfully, and offered to the gentlemen who 
come to dinner. The older girl realizes what has happened and with the 
help of one of the house clients, a man who has taken pity on her, is 
allowed to escape into dark, foggy London. But Bettina, who has been 
enjoying the flirting, the clothes, the food, and the drink is left behind. 
When the older sister tries to retrace her steps with a policeman to rescue 
her, she becomes lost and delirious. The real Aunt Josephine, who has been 
looking for her nieces, takes her in; Dr. Annan arrives to help her. The nar- 
rator has a dream in which her sister confirms that she is dead, and that in 
the sacrifice of her young life, the world was to understand that in immor- 
tal evil was also the seed of immortal good. 

In Annie Vivanti's novel, the title Naja Tripudians refers to a cobra 
snake whose poisonous bite means sure death for its victims. It is the object 

— 25 — 



Anne Urbancic 



of study of Dr. Francis Harding, a British country doctor whose wife has 
died in childbirth leaving him with two daughters, Myosotis and Leslie. 
Their home, Rose Cottage, is rather isolated and the girls are brought up 
with very little practical education. Lady Randolph Grey takes up summer 
residence in the nearby village, where she enchants the local inhabitants 
with her genteel manners, her famous acquaintances and her cultured 
soirees. She herself takes an interest in the motherless Harding girls, now 
1 9 and 1 5 respectively, and entreats their father to allow her to give them 
a proper coming out season in London. The father allows them to go, and 
after much discussion with their trustworthy nurse and cook, as well as 
with the advice columnist of a Leeds newspaper, Zia Marianna, (who turns 
out to be a harassed man who is simultaneously the newspaper editor, and 
the writer of most of the letters to both the Zia and the editor), the two 
girls depart. Lady Randolph sends her car to pick them up at the station 
and takes them to luxurious quarters, where they are shown to well 
appointed rooms, filled with new clothes. She instructs them how to dress 
for her guests at lunch. Myosotis begins to suspect that all is not well when 
she realizes that her dress is sleeveless, and diaphanous. She is also uncom- 
fortable with the instruction that Leslie must appear to be a twelve-year- 
old girl. Only men are present at the lunch, where there is much to drink. 
Morphine is given to the addicted cat with horrifying results; cocaine is 
brought out in honour of the transvestite who had arrived late for the 
lunch. While Myosotis refuses to drink, Leslie does imbibe. Myosotis, 
afraid, runs to her room and tries to escape through the windows, but can- 
not. She returns to the drawing room to find that her sister has already 
been given cocaine and an injection of morphine, and is hallucinating. 
Heeding her sister's delirious entreaty that she should try to escape, she 
runs to the front door where a maid takes pity on her and unlocks it for 
her. Myosotis runs through the thickening dusk to find a policeman, but 
is unable to retrace her steps with him. The address that had been given to 
her as Lady Randolph Grey's house turns out to be a post office. She runs 
from street to street, from square to square, from one police station to 
another, but all in vain. The house is never found. 

The two stories, separated in publication by almost a decade, show 
undeniable similarities. Elizabeth's publishing house, Heinemann, is 
appalled; their representative, Sidney Pawling, writes to her on 21 January 
1921 in a confidential letter: 

On the face of it, it seems a scandal. You may remember that we pub- 
lished some books by the same author, who wrote both in English and 
Italian. '0 She was well acquainted with our list and lived a good deal in 

— 26 — 



Pl-AGIARISM OR FANTASY 



London — and was introduced in the first instance, I think, by Magda 
Heinemann....The lady's husband, Chartres, I knew well. He was a bar- 
rister in the Temple, without, I think, much practice and was a pedant. 
I may say privately, that I have always deprecated the association we had 
with them. I think that you probably have enough evidence of the rob- 
bery, but I am having the two books gone through today by a very com- 
petent Italian scholar, well acquainted with literary matters both in 
England and in continental countries. 

So it seems that Vivanti stood accused also because of Paw^ling's dislike 
of her husband. In his next letter to her, dated 25 January 1921, Pawling 
assures Elizabeth that he has "received from a friend of high intelligence 
(who has read the Italian book)", the report he had solicited, and he enclos- 
es it for her to read. The unnamed reviewer begins by declaring that "the 
theme and plot of the two books are exactly the same. Granted that the 
theme is not an uncommon one it is almost inconceivable that two brains 
should have worked out the plot and should have invented such a quanti- 
ty of parallel incidents quite independently" (enclosure to Pawling's letter, 
25 January 1921, p. 1). In hindsight, there are serious problems with this 
anonymous report. First, the Italian book is consistently identified as Naja 
Tripualian, discrediting the possibility of a careful reading. Then, later, the 
author of the report points out that there is clear evidence of plagiarism in 
the closing chapters of Vivanti's novel because 

[t]here is however one rather interesting and ingenious plagiarism still to 
be mentioned. Quite at the end of Miss Robins' novel (when the elder 
girl sees the vision of her dead sister) consolation is brought to the living 
girl by the idea that God has allowed the sacrifice of an innocent victim 
so that thousands may be saved, — that is by this hideous story becom- 
ing known to the world and arousing society to the canker in its midst. 
(Enclosure to Pawling's letter, 25 January 1921, p. 5) 

The conclusion o^ My Little Sister, however, is quite unlike that oï Naja 
Tripudians; no similar description, scene, or consolatory moral is found in 
the latter. Vivanti herself was aware that her readers might expect a moral- 
ising or even a conventional conclusion, and already in her preface, she 
announced that there would be a lack of closure to her novel: 

— La fine? — dirà qualcuno. — Ma questo libro non ha fine! Alla notte 
segue l'alba, e all'alba il giorno... Che accadde poi di Leslie [cioè la sorel- 
la rimasta nella casa di tolleranza]. Io rispondo: La vita non finisce soltan- 
to colla morte. La storia di Leslie è finita... «The rest is silence». 
(Preface)" 

— 27 — 



Anne Urbancic 



Later in the report, the reader quotes as further proof of plagiarism 
two similar passages. The first he identifies as coming from Vivanti's novel. 
It is the observation of a minor character, speaking to Dr. Harding: 

Whilst you were speaking of the NAJA I was thinking of the human 
vipers which love to bite into clean flesh and poison innocent souls — the 
"naie" of our great cities whose joy-dancing (tripualian) [sic: the original 
Italian reads: di cui è tripudio] consists in contaminating [sic] and cor- 
rupting all that is sacred and healthy in the world. 

The reviewer continues: 

The same motif as in Miss Robins' book is somewhat differently 
expressed in the passage which follows. "We live in the midst of a moral 
leprousy and do not fear contagion. At every step we knock against 
human reptiles — and do not destroy them — we do not crush their heads 
under our feet. We pass them by seeking remedies for all other diseases — 
physical infirmities — poverty — social revolution etc. But who will find a 
cure for contamination of the spirit, for cancer of the soul?" (Enclosure 
to Pawling's letter, 25 January 1921, p. 6) 

Once again, while the young Scottish doctor in Robins' novel is a can- 
cer researcher, the passage above does not appear in My Little Sister as pur- 
ported. It does, however, appear, exactly as translated in Vivanti's novel (p. 
132). Thus it seems that the reviewer had caused some confiision by appar- 
ently offering as proof of Vivanti's plagiarism two quotes from Vivanti's 
novel. A second reviewer. Sabatini, does not even go into specific examples 
before pronouncing, on one double-spaced page, his judgement. He 
writes: 

I have now read WHERE ARE YOU GOING TO? and I have skimmed 
NAJA TRIPUDIANS. This superficial glance alone is sufficient to con- 
vince me that the latter would never have come into existence but for the 
former. The similarity of lay-out is not so striking in the early part of the 
Italian book, although even here the influence of the English novel is 
quite percepnble. But in the later part, the situation in NAJA TRIPU- 
DIANS is almost identical with that in WHERE ARE YOU GOING 
TO? And it is developed by means of characters of quite similar types. 
Some incidents appear to lifted [sic] bodily from the English book. I can 
discover no merit or distinction in what kittle [sic] I have examined 
closely of the Italian book. It seems to be a very crude piece of writing." 
(Enclosure to Thring's letter, 17 March 1921). 



28 



Plagiarism or Fantasy 



If the two readers had merely skimmed the ItaUan book, the first had 
nevertheless read its Preface, in which Annie Vivanti declares that her book 
is not merely fantasy but has been based on a factual story: "Non ho ideato 
questa storia: è la Realtà, terribile Romanziera, che la concepì e creò. Fu lei 
che mi cantò le chiare note del principio; fu lei che mi dettò le nere pagine 
della fine" {Preface). Thus, he ends his report by undermining it with his 
cautious question: 

As I have already stated this seems to me an undoubted case of plagia- 
rism but I am not well enough acquainted with the law to express an 
opinion as to whether an injunction would be successful. Is it not the 
case that Miss Robins [sic] story is found on fact? If that is so, could not 
the Italian author plead that facts are history and therefore anybody's 
property? (Enclosure to Pawling's letter, 25 January 1921, p. 6) 

This will be the precise point of interest for Mr. Thring, legal counsel 
for the Incorporated Society of Authors, Playwrights and Composers to 
whom the matter has been referred. His correspondence with Elizabeth 
asks her to name her source for the novel. His response to her subsequent 
answer is not unexpected: 

Dear Madam, 

I am in receipt of your letter the contents of which I am sending on to 
our Solicitors. I am afraid it rather argues that there may be a common 
origin, for if the story was told to you by a friend it may have been told 
to someone else. (10 May 1921) 

Angela V. John, in her study of Elizabeth Robins has claimed that the 
story was originally told to Elizabeth by Maude Pember Reeves in 1907.^2 
Mrs. Reeves, a feminist and socialist, was most active in various women's 
organizations, among them also the Women's Trade Union League, the 
National Anti-Sweating League, and the Fabian Women's Group. She was 
an active worker for women's suffrage and had become interested in the 
numerous stories and articles describing how innocent girls were being 
captured or enticed into the white slave trade. The stories were legion. As 
early as 1885 the Pall Mall Gazette had published a scandalous and bold 
plan by journalist WT. Stead, a friend of Elizabeth's, to procure a thirteen- 
year old girl just to show how easily it could be done.'^ In the years fol- 
lowing various congresses had been held throughout Europe to discuss the 
matter. Not surprisingly, numerous cases of kidnapping for procurement, 
or white slavery, came to light, either to police stations, or to social work- 
ers, or by letter through the Letters to Editor pages of various newspapers. 

— 29 — 



Anne Urbancic 



When Elizabeth began her short but intense friendship with poet John 
Masefield in 1909, he himself was working on a story about white slavery, 
Docet Umbra. Together they planned to write a play about the topic, but 
never completed it. Elizabeth used the material for the novel instead. Such 
was the public fascination with the topic that by the time Elizabeth had 
finished her novel, it was already much whispered about. McClures Maga- 
zine asked Heinemann to hold off publication so that the story could 
appear first in serialized form (in two parts, beginning in December 1912). 
Angela John notes that when the Elizabeth's book was published, readers 
clamoured for assurance that it was fiction, but Robins, like Vivanti after 
her, claimed that it was based on fact. When the suffragette Christabel 
Pankhurst wanted to know who the family in the story was, Robins refused 
to reveal more information.'"^ Perhaps Elizabeth had forgotten her 1907 
correspondence with Maude Pember Reeves regarding the matter. In 
response to Elizabeth's enquiry for the same information that Pankhurst 
wished to have, Pember Reeves had written: 

Dear Miss Robins — Personally I can see no objection to your using the 
story about the two girls & the house in London. It was told me by a 
cousin who did not know the people herself either. She said it had been 
told her by someone who did. I believe she did not even know their 
name. It seems to me that a story which has been handed on so many 
times becomes — as long as the real names are never introduced — a kind 
of public property. I quite agree with you in thinking this one full of dra- 
matic force. Having been handed on so many times it is likely that the 
story has been irreversibly altered in detail each time. It, therefore, is any- 
body's story now. If my memory serves me it occurred at least fifteen 
years ago. ... Yours affect. ly Maude Reeves. ( 22 May 1907) 

While My Little Sister, was enjoying its enormous success, journalist 
Teresa Billington-Grieg was researching the stories that had been told of 
the victims of the white slave trade. Carefully documenting the occur- 
rences through police records, social workers, and alleged victims, she pub- 
lished an article entided "The Truth About White Slavery" in the English 
Review of June 1913. Her detailed research overwhelmingly discounted the 
existence of an organized white slave trade; most of the stories, she claimed, 
could not be corroborated. She concluded her article with a diatribe 
against those who continued to allow the stories to proliferate as truth: 

We have achieved nothing for the victims of exploited prostitution by 
this panic ...Those responsible for it may have obtained ease of mind, the 
selfish satisfaction of having accomplished something. But that is mere- 

— 30 — 



Plagiarism or Fantasy 



ly the measure oi their tolly. For the rest they have given emphatic justi- 
fication to those who question the responsibility of women in public 
affairs; they have provided arms and ammunition for the enemy of 
women's emancipation. The Fathers of the Old Church made a mess of 
the world by teaching the Adam story and classing women as unclean; 
the Mothers of the new Church are threatening the future by white- 
washing of women and the doctrine of the uncleanness of men. ^5 

Although they never met, the lives of Elizabeth Robins and Annie 
Vivant! overlapped in many ways. How similar their career paths were has 
already been pointed out, as has the fact that they both published with 
Heinemann, and both were friends of Magda Heinemann. While she lived 
in London and the USA, it would not be unlikely that Annie would have 
read the same journalistic material regarding the white slave trade as had 
Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Annie both published articles in the same popu- 
lar magazines, magazines in which such melodramatic fare was common- 
place. Furthermore, Elizabeth had compiled much of her novel's back- 
ground in close collaboration with writer and poet laureate John Masefield, 
and he himself had provided the preface to the British edition of Reginald 
Wright Kaufmann's popular American novel about the white slave trade in 
New York. '6 Certainly, his life and Annie's did overlap in the literary sense 
since both had published in the same family magazine, Pall Mall 
MagazineJ^ Annie was also most interested in the cinema and may also 
have seen the filmed version of Elizabeth's novel (1919),'^ or even had read 
the novel itself before undertaking her own Italian version of it. 

The preparations for the lawsuit naturally focussed on the similarities 
between the two works. The differences, however, are much more obvious, 
and include thematic and stylistic dissimilarities. The most striking divi- 
sion, however, is in the attitude taken by Elizabeth Robins toward men in 
her novel. Two are her main motives. First, she was deeply disappointed 
that the promised collaboration with Masefield never took place, and that, 
indeed, the friendship, despite its original intensir\^ almost completely 
waned after this. In fact, she was most hurt that his reaction to receiving 
the proofs of her novel was a cold one. Secondly, while she wrote, Elizabeth 
was in contact with members of Salvation Army who worked with 
London's prostitutes. From them she learned that many young prostitutes 
were first abused by their fathers, and she used this information in paint- 
ing the portrait of the mother in her novel. Accordingly, the attitude she 
emphasized in her novel was that men, generally, were animal-like in their 
sexual desires, and that men who frequented brothels, particularly, were 
predators, individuals of great depraved power, promoting prostitution for 

— 31 — 



Anne Urbancic 



economie gain. Vivanti, on the other hand, used her novel to promote two 
completely different issues: first, her strong anti-British feelings and, sec- 
ondly, her equally strong opinion that young women should be well edu- 
cated, because social status would not protect them. Both attitudes can be 
clearly seen in the following sarcastic passage of Naja Tripudiansr. 

E a scuola andarono, ogni giorno, le due biondine, e impararono tutto 
ciò che ancora mancava alla loro perfetta educazione. Impararono che il 
mondo è rotondo e appartiene agli inglesi; che gli oceani sono vasti e 
appartengono agli inglesi; che gli inglesi permettono — generosamente — 
ad alcune altre nazioni di vivere nel mondo, e ad alcune altre navi — ma 
poche! — di navigare sui mari. Impararono che bisogna odiare i tedeschi, 
disprezzare i latini, e aver schifo dei negri. Impararono che il Dio inglese 
non riceve che la domenica, mentre il plebeo Dio cattolico (che del resto 
non serve che per gli straccioni, i forastieri e gli Irlandesi) lascia aperte le 
sue chiese tutti i giorni, ma non bisogna andarci. Impararono che il sen- 
timento è una cosa volgare; che è ridicolo commuoversi, che è indecoroso 
entusiasmarsi; che la frutta si mangia col coltello e la forchetta, e che le 
unghie e la coscienza — ma soprattutto le unghie! — vanno tenute 
pulite.... Così, preparate ed agguerrite alla vita, si affacciarono le due 
bionde sorelline alla soglia della giovinezza ... (p. 26) 

Over and over Vivanti points to their lack of education as being the 
real downfall of the two sisters. 

There is a further difference between the two works. In Naja, unlike 
in Robins' novel, the illicit drug culture is detailed with its lurid and hor- 
rific effects. I have mentioned above the focus that Annie gives to the use 
of cocaine and morphine in her novel. Her descriptions of the lunch where 
Leslie is injected with morphine for the first time recall an article that 
Vivanti had written a year earlier for La Donna, the women's magazine of 
La Stampa. There she describes the notorious case of a young British 
actress, Billie Carleton, who had died of an overdose of cocaine in early 
December 1918. The ensuing court case filled the daily papers well into 
January of 1919. Annie used that article, too, as a journalistic mouthpiece 
for her anti-British sentiments. '^ 

Our question remains, though. Was there any plagiarism on Annie's 
part or did Robins and Vivanti merely have two coinciding imaginations? 

In early June 1921, Elizabeth Robins, now at Henfield, received 
another letter regarding the alleged plagiarism. It was from the solicitor, 
Herbert Thring: 

Dear Madam, 

Many thanks for your letter. I was, as a matter of fact, hoping to write to 

you today as we have just had a meeting of the Committee (of 

— 32 — 



Plagiarism or Fantasy 



Management). The Committee have now considered carefully all the evi- 
dence and they have found that the story has been told in a great many 
places, and one of our members said that he had heard it told as a true 
story...." (8 June 1921) 

Mr. Thring asks Elizabeth if she wishes to withdraw her case. Elizabeth 
apparently agrees to do so; his subsequent letter assures her that she need 
not regret the trouble and money expended in the matter (June 11, 1921). 

But as with many letters, this affair too, has a post-script. Several 
months later, in October 1921, Florence Bell is still staunchly defending 
her friend Elizabeth. She drafts a letter to the French reviewer of Naja 
Tripudians, Maurice Muret,2o informing him of the plagiarism. She first 
sends a copy of the draft to Elizabeth, asking for her permission to send it 
on because "[t]his seems to me rather an interesting thing to do. I have not 
put it insultingly although I thought of some rather effective furiosities as 
I went on, which I regretfully dismissed!" (10 October 1921) 

It is clear that while the solicitors had made a judgement for the coin- 
ciding imaginations, Elizabeth's friends had decided otherwise. 

There is no record of any reply. 

University of Toronto 

NOTES 

^Permission to quote this letter and all others to which I refer has been kind- 
ly provided by the Pales Library in the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, New York 
University, New York, where the Elizabeth Robins Papers are housed. I also wish 
to express my sincere gratitude to the Victoria College Research Grants 
Committee (University of Toronto) whose generous consideration allowed me to 
study Vivanti's "New York" material in various libraries in that city. 

^Robins, Where Are You Going To...; published also as My Little Sister The 
story was serialized in McClure's Magazine (from December 1912). 

^This is a correction to the generally accepted birth date of 1868, with thanks 
to Prof Carlo Caporossi who succeeded in finding Vivanti's birth certificate. 

^The first printing o^ Naja, as with most of Annie's books of the period, was 
of 100,000 copies, in an era when the average first issue in Italy was 3,000-4,000 
copies. Cf Giocondi, Best seller italiani. 

^Allason, "Ricordi di Annie Vivanti." 

"Cf Murphy, John Chartres. 

'^Cf Murphy, John Chartres. 

^The Archive also contains the pencilled version of the story as Elizabeth had 
heard it. It is entitled "Prostitution". 

— 33 — 



Anne Urbancic 



^In this is a wonderful tribute to Elizabeth's close friend Octavia Wilberforce 
(1888-1963), a medical student whom Elizabeth had met in 1909. 

l^The books are: The Hunt for Happiness (1896), The Devourers (1910) and 
Marie Tarnowska (1915). 

' ^Although she may not have been considering it at the time, Vivanti's deci- 
sion allowed her to produce a sequel twelve years later. Cf Vivanti, Salvate le no- 
stre anime. 

^^John, Elizabeth Robins. 

^^The resulting articles, "Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon" were pub- 
lished in Stead's Pall Mall Gazette (July 1885). Stead was then charged with unlaw- 
fully kidnaping a minor and spent three months in prison. Subsequently, the 
British parliament passed an act raising the age of consent from 13 to 16 and 
strengthening the legislation against prostitution. 

^'*John, Elizabeth Robins, p. 191. 

^^Billington-Grieg, "The Truth About White Slavery," p. 446. 

^"Kaufmann's House of Bondage wz.?, subsequently published, with Masefield's 
preface, as Daughters of Ishmael. It had a decidedly xenophobic attitude. House of 
Bondage ^N2& made into a film in 1914, starring Lottie Pickford (Mary's sister). 
Apparently there had also been a Broadway adaptation of the book earlier in 1914. 
Cf Parish, Prostitution in Hollywood Films. Parish lists 20 other prostitution/white 
slave trade movie titles produced by Hollywood between 1913 and 1920. 

l^Cf Pall Mall Magazine 40, No. 173 (Sept. 1907) in which a poem by 
Masefield and an article by Vivien Chartres, Annie's daughter, with preface by 
Annie, appear. 

'°It appears that the Fox Film Corporation had produced the film without 
permission from Elizabeth, who first found out about it when she approached her 
literary agent about movie rights for My Little Sister in July 1944. 
"^Vivanti, "La corsa all'Estasi e all'Oblio, " p. 24. 

■^^Muret, "Un roman de Mme Annie Vivanti", Journal des débats (30 
Septembre 1021), 3. Muret had mentioned Annie already in his 1906 volume La 
Littérature italienne d'aujourd'hui, saying of her that among contemporary women 
writers, the reading public "connaît-de réputation, tout au moins-la poésie tour- 
mentée d'Annie Vivanti" (p. 178). 

WORKS CITED 

Allason, Barbara. "Ricordi di Annie Vivanti" Nuova Antologia (April 1952): 369- 

381. 
Billington-Grieg, Teresa. "The Truth About White Slavery" English Review 14 

(June 1913): 428-446. 
Giocondi, Michele. Best seller italiani. 1860-1990. Firenze: Editoriale Paradigma, 

1990. 

— 34 — 



Plagiarism or Fantasy 



John, Angela V. Elizabeth Robins: Staging a Life. 1862-1952. London and New 

York: Roudedge, 1995. 
Kaufman, Reginald Wright. House of Bondage. New York: Grosser & Dunlap, 

1910. Republished as The Daughters of Ishmael. Preface by John Masefield. 

London: S. Swift, 1912. 
Murphy, Brian. John Chartres. Mystery Man of the Treaty. Dublin: Irish Academic 

Press, 1995. 
Parish, James R. Prostitution in Hollywood Pilms. Jefferson, NC & London: 

McFarland & Co., 1992. 
Robins, Elizabeth. Ancillas Share: An Indictment of Sex Antagonism. London: 

Hutchinson (Anonymous) and New York: Transatlantic Arts, 1924. 
Robins, Elizabeth. Time is Whispering. London: Hutchinson and New York: 

Harper and Bros, 1923. 
Robins, Elizabeth. Where Are You Going To....'' London: Heinemann / Toronto: 

William Briggs, 1913. Also published as My Little Sister New York: Dodd, 

Mead, 1913. 
Stead, William T. "Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon" Pall Mall Gazette (6-12 

July 1885). 
Vivanti, Annie. "La corsa all'Estasi e all'Oblio", La Donna n. 311 (21 March 

1919), 24. 
Vivanti, Annie. The Devourers. London: Heinemann, 1910. 
Vivanti, Annie. The Hunt for Happiness. London: Heinemann, 1896. 
Vivanti, Annie. Marie Tarnowska. London: Heinemann, 1915. 
Vivanti, Annie. Salvate le nostre anime. Milan: Mondadori, 1932. 



35 



LUCIA RE 



VALENTINE DE SAINT-POINT, RICCIOTTO CANUDO, 

E T MARINETTI: EROTICISM, VIOLENCE AND FEMINISM 

FROM PREWAR PARIS TO COLONL\L CAIRO 

I. Valentine de Saint- Point, Woman Warrior 

In her "Manifeste de la femme futuriste" (1912) and "Manifeste futuriste 
de la luxure" (1913), Valentine de Saint-Point ostensibly came to the 
defense of women against the abuses of futurist misogyny, yet her mani- 
festos have suffered a critical fate similar to that of Marinetti's Mafarka le 
futuriste, and Valentine has gained a notoriety of her own.^ Even her avant- 
garde practice of abstract choreography and dance before and during the 
First World War has come to be regarded with suspicion as fascistic, anti- 
feminist and unfeminine.2 

De Saint-Point is without question one of the more baffling among 
the futurist women; she is also effectively the first "official" woman futur- 
ist, and one of the most original. Her association with futurism was actu- 
ally rather brief, though significant. She was an extraordinarily indepen- 
dent woman and, as the extended research by the Tunisian feminist critic 
and historian Fawzia Zouari has revealed, she lived a complex and highly 
unusual life.3 Most critics, however, have identified Valentine de Saint- 
Point solely with her futurist manifestos, ignoring or dismissing the rest of 
her life and work. Even more paradoxically, they have made Valentine de 
Saint-Point herself the principal representative of women's participation in 
futurism, and of all the negative, anti-feminist and fascistic traits that are 
supposed to have characterized it as a whole. 

To be sure the two manifestos are shocking and filled with violent pro- 
nouncements and images. Yet to view them as "representative" or sympto- 
matic in this way, and especially as proto-fascist, means to simplify exces- 
sively and to take them out of their specific historical and cultural context. 
The powerful language of the manifestos has contributed to its a-historical 
reading. Indeed, the fact that her texts continue to be so topical and con- 
troversial is indicative of the way in which Valentine anticipated many of 
the most contested questions of contemporary feminist theory and criti- 
cism while claiming a space for women within the avant-garde. 

Quaderni d'italianistica-, Volume XXIV, No, 2, 2003, 37 



Lucia Re 



Contrary to what most critics maintain in tiie liglit of her distant rela- 
tion to Alphonse de Lamartine and her impressive list of names, ^ Valentine 
de Saint-Point (also known as Anne-Jeanne- Valentine-Marianne Desglans 
de Cessiat-Vercell) did not come from a privileged aristocratic background. 
Her aristocratic names, including de Saint-Point, were of her own devising, 
with only tenuous anagraphical foundations and legitimacy. Born Anna 
Jean Valentine Vercell in 1875 in Lyon, she was the daughter of an insur- 
ance agent who died when she was eight, and of a provincial middle-class 
widow, Alice Vercell. Alice, who had been born out of wedlock, was a very 
strict mother. She had Valentine educated at home by a tutor. Alice's moth- 
er (a seamstress) had been the mistress of a nephew of the poet Lamartine, 
Emmanuel de Cessiat, who married her only in extremis. 

Yet Valentine's self-naming was not simply a way of acquiring — how- 
ever fictionally — higher social status and prestige. Like Rawhiyya Noured- 
dine (the name she chose when she converted to Islam), 5 her names reveal 
instead her disregard for the conventions of bourgeois identity and gender, 
and her life-long propensity for self-fashioning and nomadism. Valentine's 
transformative, restless and multiple approach to her identity resembles the 
nomadic subjectivity later theorized by Rosi Braidotti.^ For Braidotti, the 
nomadic subject is marked by non-adherence to rules, roles, and prescribed 
models of behaviour. Nomadic subjectivity allows for "disengagement and 
disidentification from the socio-symbolic institution of femininity" 
{Metamorphoses 40). 

One of the ways in which Valentine disengaged herself from the institu- 
tion of femininity in early twentieth-century France was by forging an imag- 
inary and enpowering connection with Lamartine. From childhood, encour- 
aged by the maternal grandmother, Valentine had developed a veritable pas- 
sion for Lamartine, with whom she identified profoundly. Saint-Point is the 
name of the mountain village where Lamartine was buried in 1869. Through 
her cult of Lamartine, Valentine seems to have compensated for the lack of 
a father, creating a powerful masculine model for herself As we shall see, she 
also cultivated a spectacular, even shocking femininity. Lamartine's predilec- 
tion for Italy and the Orient (particularly Egypt and Morocco) especially 
influenced Valentine, as did Lamartine's mysticism, his Utopian political fer- 
vour, and his intense erotic life. Lamartine expressed great admiration for 
what he called "the genius" of the Prophet Mohammed and for the creation 
of Islam and the Muslim religion (276-277). This admiration too was to 
have profound repercussions on Valentine. 

Against the hopes of her mother and grandmother, Valentine married 
a petty-bourgeois lycée teacher, Florian Perrenot. They settled down to a 

— 38 — 



Eroticism, Violence, and Feminism 



dull provincial life in the district of the Jura, but Valentine soon took a 
lover, Charles Dumont, a radical socialist and a teacher of philosophy. 
Encouraged by Valentine, he moved on to politics and became the Jura 
representative to the parliament in 1898. His apoplectic fit left Valentine a 
widow, free to discard the Perrenot name and move to Paris, where she 
married Dumont on the first day of the new century. The spectacle of pol- 
itics in the French Third Republic, however, and the discovery of the life 
of dreary compromises led by her husband and his colleagues increasingly 
nauseated her. In the Paris of the belle époque (where Marinetti was also 
living off and on at the time) Valentine began leading an electrifying life, 
first turning herself not into a typical politician's wife but rather into a 
flâneuse. She was thus a rare female counterpart of the traditionally male 
figure of the flâneur, the man of the crowd idealized by Baudelaire. The 
couple was divorced in 1 904 and there was an amicable (though unofficial) 
settlement.'' (Dumont went on to become a senator, and was minister in 
several cabinets until his death in 1939). 

Although a notable group of famously liberated and unconventional 
women lived in Paris at the time, including Colette, Rachilde, Sarah 
Bernhardt, and the expatriates Natalie Barney, Edith Wharton and 
Gertrude Stein, the prevalent ethos among French women and in French 
society in general was the bourgeois feminine ideal that regarded family 
and motherhood as the only appropriate mission for women. Even Colette 
suffered deeply from this discriminatory and sacrificial ethos, and all the 
earnings from her writings were pocketed by her husband Willy, who pre- 
tended to be the sole author of the Claudine novels until Rachilde discov- 
ered the truth. Egalitarian legal reforms continued to assume the primacy 
of women's maternal role, as did the French feminist movement. 
Sufïragism was never popular (women in France obtained the vote only 
after World War Two).^ French women were generally educated to believe 
in a sacrificial ethics of femininity. Woman was to devote herself entirely 
to her husband and children. She was not supposed to feel sexual desire, 
but rather feminine "love. " Feminine love was to be tender, affectionate, 
and compliant. To reject this bourgeois feminine ideal, Valentine de Saint- 
Point, while pointedly refusing to become a wife and mother, constructed 
the image of a strong woman that took the notion of maternity and of the 
female body to radical, provocative extremes. She was thus equally unac- 
ceptable to the conservatives and to the moderate, reformist feminists. 

Valentine published her first volume of poetry, Poèmes de la mer et du 
soleil, in 1905. One of Valentine's poems appeared in 1908 in Marinetti's 
Poesia, which later published several other poems by her. Valentine's flam- 

— 39 — 



Lucia Re 



boyant style of dressing in an orientalist fashion (especially after a visit to 
Morocco, following Lamartine's footsteps), her unusually colourftil and 
immense hats and cloaks eventually earned her the nickname of "la Muse 
pourpre," a reference to her preference for red and purple. 

In her penchant for feminine masquerade and orientalist ornamenta- 
tion, Valentine seems to have been an example of "sartorial female 
fetishism."^ From the start, Valentine's display of feminine luxe and her 
propensity for masquerade and veiling entailed a strong element of daring, 
"masculine" volition. It thus had little in common with Joan Riviere's 
notion — theorized in her classic 1929 essay — that womanliness is often 
nothing but a masquerade, a strategy. According to Riviere, woman, when 
confronted with a men's world, wears womanliness as a mask, "both to hide 
the possession of masculinity and to avert the reprisals expected if she was 
found to possess it" (42). Valentine instead created and boldly projected the 
image of a strong, "masculine" femininity that was neither submissive nor 
reducible to the paranoid stereotype of the femme fatale despised by the 
ftiturists. Indeed, it was precisely this aura that first attracted Marinetti, who 
felt for a time that Valentine could embody the new futurist woman. 
However, Valentine's vision of the female body and the cognitive and spiri- 
tual role that she attributed to eroticism eventually clashed with Marinetti's 
more athletic, casual and materialist notion of sexuality. 

For Valentine luxe was essentially an expression of female luxure, a way 
of eroticizing the body and the objects in contact with it. Valentine's theo- 
ry of desire or luxure implied, as we shall see, a liberation of all forms of 
desire, unbound from the bourgeois (as well as fascist) imperatives of 
reproduction and the restrictions of the patriarchal family, as well as from 
the symbolic rule of the father that still informed a large section of the 
avant-garde. The worrisome, even dangerously evil connection between 
female luxury (both sartorial and cosmetic) and a wastefiil, self-serving 
female lust (rather than procreative sexuality) celebrated by Baudelaire was 
re-appropriated by Valentine as an expression of female power and eroti- 
cism. In the manifesto "Contro il lusso femminile" (1920), written in the 
postwar climate of male paranoia and resentment against emancipated 
women, Marinetti would later criticize female vanity and women's plea- 
surable, sensual display of elegance as selfish and emasculating, calling it a 
morbid negation of "true desire" {Teoria 547). ^o Female eroticism and any 
form of wasteful feminine ornamentation were anathema to the fascist 
regime, which generally encouraged moralism in sexual matters for women 
and sought to inculcate modesty along with parsimony and family values. 

Shortly after her entrance into Parisian society, Mucha painted 

— 40 — 



Eroticism, Violence, and Feminism 



Valentine's portrait and Rodin used her as a model for several of his sculp- 
tures. (They and Marinetti were rumored to be her lovers). Soon after- 
wards, she began to paint and sculpt herself, showing her works (none of 
which appear to be extant) at the Salons des Indépendants. Turning her 
gaze back on the master for whom she modelled, in 1913 she wrote an 
essay on Rodin and lectured on him, praising him for replacing the classi- 
cal anthropomorphic and mimetic ideal with a more "architectural," 
abstract approach. '^ Abstraction, and the rejection of mimesis, were at the 
same time becoming essential elements of her new theory of choreography. 

Valentine soon had her own atelier that also functioned as a salon, 
where evenings of music, poetry, dance and theatre performances were 
held. She befriended Vivian du Mas and began attending theosophical 
meetings and spiritualist soirées, a common activity among Parisian intel- 
lectuals and even avant-garde writers and artists. At one of these evenings 
she met the man who was to become her "soul mate" until the First World 
War, Ricciotto Canudo. Canudo, whose complex role as cultural mediator 
between Italy and France is still scarcely understood, is often incorrectly 
assumed to have been a fanatical French nationalist, and Valentine's asso- 
ciation with him is sometimes used as evidence of her own reactionary 
leanings. '2 

Canudo was a southern Italian (from a small town near Bari) who 
studied literature and oriental languages and religions in Florence and 
Rome, where he moved in literary and theosophical circles. He helped 
Valentine improve her spoken Italian (like her adored Lamartine, Valentine 
was a great Italophile). In 1910, Canudo invited her along with Apollinaire 
and others to join him in Brussels for a lecture series on Italian literature. 
Apollinaire lectured on Aretino. Valentine's lecture, later published as an 
essay, was entided "La femme dans la littérature" and was the first in a 
series of talks that testify to her idiosyncratic feminism and deep interest in 
the question of women's creativity and their relationship to the institutions 
of literature, theatre and the arts.'-^ 

In her knowledgeable overview of woman as icon in Italian literature 
from Dante on, and of the literary production by Italian women, Valentine 
perceptively points to the restrictions that Italian culture and society still 
placed on women even in the early twentieth century, in contrast to the rel- 
atively freer intellectual exchange and socialization allowed in France, espe- 
cially after the reinstatement of divorce. She refers explicitly to Sibilla 
Aleramo's Una donna as well as to the feminist novels by Bruno Sperani, 
Marchesa Colombi, Regina di Luanto and others, remarking that in Italy 
women writers were still in the position of having to denounce and expose 



— 41 



Lucia Re 

in their works the psychological and ideological as well as institutional 
oppression of women, whose bodies and minds were not yet free. In con- 
trast, Valentine argues, women in France were freer to live according to 
their own desires. Their literature, therefore, was less concerned with the 
kind of social issues that make Una donna a powerful feminist pamphlet 
than with the question of how to create a specifically feminine esthetics 
and a feminine voice. 

Valentine acknowledges the stature and greatness of Matilde Serao and 
Grazia Deledda, but observes not only that they are decidedly anti-femi- 
nist, but that they have embraced a masculine perspective and have not 
contributed to reveal anything new and genuine about female psychology. 
Their writing does not reveal their sex, Valentine asserts. Valentine cites on 
the other hand two poets as examples of an Italian feminine avant-garde in 
this sense: Amalia Guglielminetti and Térésah. She quotes extensively from 
Guglielminetti's Seduzioni, a book that she calls unsentimental, violently 
sensual and daring, and a model for all women poets. Térésah's work on 
the other hand, from which she quotes extensively in her own translation 
into French, is in her view more abstract, imaginative, ironic and almost 
phantasmagoric. (Térésah was also a favorite of Palazzeschi's at the time). 
Valentine's critical assessment is of course a reflection of her poetic taste 
and of tendencies in her own writing, though recent appreciations of 
Guglielminetti show that Valentine's evaluation was perhaps less subjective 
and more farsightedly feminist than it might have previously appeared.''* 

Like Marinetti's early poems, Valentine's poems and prose poems, 
including Poèmes d'orgueil (1908) , La Guerre (1912) and La Soif et le mirage 
(1912), belong in esthetic and formal terms to the mode of late symbolism. 
They are, however, notable in terms of images and themes, a central one 
being female sexuality and desire or "lust," to which she attributes a poten- 
tially disruptive and violent power. Valentine describes desire in extreme 
terms, as that which can never be fulfilled, an endless, unsatisfiable drive: "Le 
Désir / Qui crée les désirs / Insatiablement . . . Nulle paix, ni détente, ni sat- 
isfaction" {La Soif\ 9). Desire is thus a "force," a potentially devastating ener- 
gy, and is connected to fantasies of both violence and war — the ultimate dis- 
charge of libidinal energies. Violence and war are themes that Valentine 
placed at the centre of her two fijturist manifestos of 1912 and 1913. 

Classic futurist topoi such as the train, the automobile, and the air- 
plane that appear in her poetry are regarded from a woman's point of view. 
Valentine celebrates the new, accelerated, and compressed perception of 
time and space and the different kinds of desire and imagination that are 
generated in her by the experience of speed and flying. It is therefore not 

— 42 — 



Eroticism, Violence, and Feminism 



surprising that Marinetti should find Valentine interesting as a poet (a 
review oï Poèmes d'orgueil uppesired in Poesia in June 1908) and attempt to 
enlist her in the futurist ranks. 

The female subject depicted or speaking in Valentine's texts, either 
directly or indirectly, is the antithesis of the inert, tender, passive and com- 
pliant bourgeois female. Her poetry is saturated with sadistic and 
masochistic fantasies. Ironically, Valentine's notion of desire is reminiscent 
(or perhaps a precursor) of Freud's and of those of later Freudian theorists, 
including Klaus Theweleit, invoked to chastise Valentine's supposedly 
fascistic perversion and deviant femininity. 

The most important intellectual influence on Valentine, however, was 
Nietzsche, who had died in 1900. A two-volume French translation of Der 
Wille zur Machtwzs published in 1903, but Valentine was already familiar 
with Nietzsche's radical thought from the days of her affair with Dumont. 
In "Preparatory Human Beings," a famous fragment of The Gay Science 
{Die Froliche Wissemchafi,ì887), Nietzsche had succinctly formulated his 
ethics of violence: "I welcome all signs that a more virile, warlike age is 
about to begin . . . the age that will carry heroism into the search for 
knowledge and that will wage wars for the sake of ideas and their conse- 
quences " (228). It is a motif that deeply resonates in Valentine's poetry and 
prose. Valentine saw herself as one of Nietzsche's preparatory human 
beings and wholly embraced his ethics of regenerative violence even as she 
rejected Nietzsche's vision of woman's sexuality. For Nietzsche, women's 
sexuality resided entirely in the desire to be possessed ("Woman wants to 
be taken and accepted as a possession, wants to be absorbed into the con- 
cept of possession, possessed" The Gay Science 319). For Valentine, howev- 
er, this desire represents only one side of female sexuality, or a possible gen- 
der position for woman as well as man. 

Between 1906 and 1910, Valentine published a series of Nietzsche- 
inspired novels, including Un amour. Un inceste and Une mort, which 
formed the Trilogie de l'amour et de la mort. She also published the novel 
Une femme et le désir (1910) and L'Orbe pâle, a book of prose poems 
(1911). These novels and prose poems have a distinctly Dannunzian flavor, 
but are written from a decidedly female perspective with strong (if idio- 
syncratic) feminist implications. The latter two works in particular delin- 
eate the phantasmatic image of a phallic woman, with a sword in her hand, 
that still has the power to scandalize.''' For although Valentine, like Freud, 
asserts the power of the libido in both women and men, her woman over- 
steps the very limits of "womanhood" articulated first by Nietzsche and 
later by Freud in his theory of the female as always "castrated." 

— 43 — 



Lucia Re 



In her desire to counter the turn-of-the-century misogynist scenario of 
sexual difference (that influenced deeply both Nietzsche and Freud) and 
the dogma of the inferiority and passivity of woman, Valentine polemical- 
ly sees the symbolic phallus as a sign of power and strength that can be 
woman's as well as man's. Valentine's imagination thus still envisions a 
phallic symbolic economy, but in fantasizing a powerful phallic woman 
Valentine steps outside its traditional male boundaries. For while for Freud 
the phallic desire, that he called "penis envy" (an expression that first 
appeared in a 1908 essay), '<^ is a phase of the little girl's immature sexuali- 
ty that in the mature woman is transformed into the desire to have a child 
and to be sexually possessed by man, Valentine's powerRil woman is simul- 
taneously both phallic and a mother, both "masculine" and "feminine." 
Valentine's phallic woman embodies a fantasized creative potency. 

In creating the image of an ideal, superior and phallic woman (a kind of 
woman warrior) Valentine is not immune to the suggestions of the 
Darwinian and Lamarckian evolutionist scenario that deeply influenced 
Nietzsche and Marinetti. Yet her view of woman effectively reverses both 
Darwin's and Nietzsche's. Nietzsche had written: "This is how I want man 
and woman: the one a good warrior, the other a good mother, but both good 
dancers with the head and legs" ( Thus Spoke Zarathustra III, 23). Valentine, 
instead, set out to show that a woman could be as good a warrior/ dancer as 
man, Valentine's fantasy of female virility does not subtend a proto-fascist 
tendency to identify with the male leader and his violence while simultane- 
ously construing femininity passively, through the optic of male domination 
and female subjection. On the contrary, Valentine's ideas and narratives con- 
stitute a set of liberatory fantasies, the imaginary staging of "another 
woman." They are formulated precisely in opposition to the dominant 
notion of the feminine as exclusively and fateflilly inert and inferior. 

Before becoming a performer and going on the stage as a dancer, 
Valentine also wrote for and about the theatre, attempting to create a new 
tragic "Théâtre de la Femme," and publishing Le Déchu, a drama per- 
formed in 1909 at the Theatre des Arts. Valentine observed that although 
woman was everywhere in the theatre, the privileged subject of endless 
plays, the actual individuality and complexity of women remained invisi- 
ble. She felt that most authors (D'Annunzio in particular) relied on stereo- 
types, endlessly rehearsing the male-created opposition between the self- 
sacrificial woman and the destructive femme fatale. Even Ibsen's women 
seemed types rather than complex individuals ("Le Théâtre de la femme," 
Manifeste 39-40). L'Ame impériale, ou l'agonie de Messaline (written around 
1907, but published only in 1929) was an attempt to write a neoclassical 

— 44 — 



Eroticism, Violence, and Feminisk4 



modernist drama in the Dannunzian vein, but from a female perspective. 
In its linking of female sexuality and seductiveness with political power and 
the excitability of the crowd, it resembles D'Annunzio's 1905 incendiary 
tragedy La Nave (which Canudo translated into French) except that in 
D'Annunzio's tragedy the heroine (Basiliola) commits suicide, while in 
Valentine's drama it is Messaline (the incitatrice) who triumphs. ^^ 

Valentine's passion for Nietzsche was linked to the way in which 
Nietzsche, despite his anti-woman prejudices, brought the body back into 
philosophy. Valentine's vision of her own body is both heterosexual and 
bisexual. Unlike other women rebels of the belle epoque, who chose the 
lesbian as the symbol of the new woman, Valentine de Saint-Point's 
woman is the "strong" (and therefore "perverse") heterosexual woman, 
whose sexuality is coextensive with her creativity. ^^ In her union with 
Canudo (from whom she declined to have a child) she pursued the ideal of 
the creative couple that Sibilla Aleramo also theorized in a different way. 
(A version of this ideal was embodied at the time by Sonia and Robert 
Delaunay, among others). 

In her trilogy of novels, Valentine outlined the figure of a mother-son 
incestuous couple (inspired by Nietzsche's "mother in the son"), where the 
figure of the husband and father is effectively eliminated from the sexual 
and creative process. In an exact reversal of Mafarkds paradigm of wom- 
anless paternity (Valentine's third and final novel of the trilogy appeared in 
La Nouvelle Revue between December 1909 and March 1910) it is the 
mother who effectively "creates" a son without a father, though the son 
finally fails to incarnate the mother's heroic desire by betraying the inces- 
tuous bond after the mother's death. 

II. Valentine and Canudo 

Although their backgrounds were quite different, Valentine and Canudo 
shared a deeply Utopian ethos and an esthetic idealism that was typical of 
some prewar intellectual circles in Paris. Canudo, like D'Annunzio and 
Marinetti, was a versatile, "total" intellectual, open to all forms of esthetic 
expression and spectacle, though he lacked their cynicism and talent for 
self-promotion. Working as a critic and then as a translator, Canudo had 
moved to Paris in 1901, where he lived a precarious bohemian existence. 
He became an associate of Sofifici's, met (among others) Joyce, Marinetti, 
Apollinaire, Marie Laurencin, and Edgar Varese, and began writing in 
French magazines about Italian theatre and music, as well as lecturing and 
composing his own works for the theatre. One of his lectures, which he 
published as part of the collection L'Âme de Dante, was "Psychologie 

— 45 — 



Lucia Re 



Dantesque de la Luxure" and appears to have influenced Valentine's notion 
of luxure as a powerful spiritual force. During one of his Dante courses in 
1910, he presented the new film adaptation of Dante's Inferno by 
Francesco Bertolini and Adolfo Padovan, a work that was pivotal in the lit- 
erary and artistic legitimation of the new medium, usually considered mere 
entertainment for the masses rather than an art form. 

Before focusing his attention on cinema, however, Canudo began 
thinking about the idea of a cosmopolitan Mediterranean culture-espe- 
cially music and theatre-and, like Valentine, became particularly interest- 
ed in the notion of a modern Mediterranean revival of the Greek open-air 
theatre tradition. The new theatre would combine music, images, dance, 
and drama in a total synthetic and cinematic spectacle. It was meant to be 
a Mediterranean answer to Wagner, similar to D'Annunzio's theatre of 
Albano as described in // Fuoco and other French neo-Greek theatre pro- 
jects at the time. Along with a group of other enthusiasts, Canudo started 
a society for this kind of theatre to be performed at Orage and wrote sev- 
eral works for it, including the symphonic tragedy Le Délire de Clytemnestre 
with music by Varese. 

Canudo also wrote novels, among which La Ville sans Chef (1910) a 
work that provides interesting evidence of Canudo's and Valentine's intel- 
lectual position vis-à-vis both Marinetti and D'Annunzio. The novel, 
which expresses in symbolic form many of the anxieties related to the new 
mass society and the urban and industrial crowds described in Gustave Le 
Bon's work, is the apocalyptic story of an anarchist, Vincent. Vincent is an 
idealist who believes in the possibility of creating a community made of 
free-thinking individuals without oppression, political demagogues, or 
leaders, but becomes alienated and disenchanted, finally learning to rely 
only on himself and to believe only in the creative individual (a position 
not unlike that of Boccioni's). Canudo shared with Marinetti and the 
futurists a profound interest in anarchism, but unlike Marinetti he believed 
in the need for a creative dialectic of tradition and innovation. Also unlike 
Marinetti, who sought to devalue sexuality at least symbolically, Canudo 
was interested in the fundamental intellectual and psychological function 
of human sexuality. Alluding to Nietzsche, he wrote: "La sexualité monte 
au faîte de l'intelligence" {L'Âme 66). It was a view that he shared with both 
Valentine and D'Annunzio. i^ 

In 1911, Canudo had Joined Méditerranée, a monthly review of poli- 
tics and literature "for a united federation of the Latin peoples," and in 
October of the same year he published his seminal, first essay on film the- 
ory, "La Naissance d'un sixième art." Later, he called cinema the seventh, 

— 46 — 



Eroticism, Violence, and Feminism 



rather than the sixth art, tor cinema represented the fusion of three arts of 
space — painting, architecture and dance — with three arts of time — music, 
theatre and Hterature ("Reflections on the Seventh Art" 296). In her own 
work, Valentine soon became aware of the need to go beyond traditional- 
ly-staged tragedy and to create a more cinematic kind of spectacle, her 
Métachorie. In 1912, Canudo founded with Mme Zekowaia and others the 
journal Montjoie! of which he became the full-time editor in chief from 
1913 to 1914. Although subtitled "Organe de l'Impérialisme artistique 
français," Montjoie! was essentially cosmopolitan in its approach and, 
according to the futurist painter Gino Severini, "even too open to every- 
one" (127). It published contributions by, among others, Léger, Stravinsky, 
Gordon Craig, Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Blaise Cendras, Duchamp, 
Goncharova, and the Delaunays, but also writings by right-wing tradition- 
alists such as Henri Clouard. Despite its nationalist pride and its ideas 
about cultural imperialism, the journal expressed dislike for L'Action 
Française (in the sixth issue of 1913 Vivian du Mas published an attack 
against Barrés) and placed itself rather on the "gauche libérale. "20 Canudo, 
however, was against political action by artists and writers, and pursued 
instead the ideal of the independence of art. Ironically, like many young 
men and women of his generation in Europe, he was soon to be captivat- 
ed by the myth of redemptive violence, one of the factors that led to inter- 
ventionist idealism and contributed to World War One, of which, as we 
shall see, he became one of the most celebrated heroes and poets. 

In 1914, Montjoie! launched its own movement, "Cerebrism." The 
"Manifeste de fart cérébriste" was published in Le Figaro on 9 February. 
Cerebrism was a kind of esthetic and avant-garde mystical utopianism 
based on the notion that all avant-garde artists should be able to overcome 
their differences (Valentine had distanced herself from, futurism by then) 
and cooperate in forging a new polyphonic artistic soul for the world. 
Sensuality and intelligence, but not sentimentalism and emotion, were to 
be the essence of cerebrism. 

De Saint-Point's new dance, the "Métachorie" or "dance idéiste" was 
the embodiment in the theatre of the cerebrist credo that she contributed 
to create, giving it a theosophic slant. Neither mimetic nor anecdotal, 
Métachorie was designed, as we shall see, as an abstract form of dance, a 
stimulant for the intelligence and the imagination. Métachorie was envi- 
sioned as the equivalent in dance of cinema's kinetic essence. Canudo con- 
ceived of cinema as a synthetic, anti-mimetic fusion of the spatial and the 
temporal dimensions; evocation, not imitation was to be the goal of filmic 
expression. Canudo's theories were an important influence on avant-garde 

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European film-makers. He perceived cinema as a kind of visual symphony, 
a writing done with hght and shadow, emphasizing the abstract visual 
aspect of the filmic image as well as the ability of cinema to defamiliarize 
and valorize details and objects, especially, through the close-up, the 
human face and other parts of the body and of physical movement. The 
point of the close-up was to exhibit the illusory quality of the familiar 
human face by making it strange and mysterious, paradoxically and poeti- 
cally obscuring, hiding or disfiguring its familiar appearance. Through the 
cinema, the human perception of the body could lose its habitual, hack- 
neyed predictability and become more complex and surprisingly revealing. 
Valentine's Métachorie, in which she often used the veil to obscure the 
face, had a similar goal. 

The war put an end to Canudo's editorial and critical activities for a 
while and, eventually, his relationship with Valentine. He and Blaise 
Cendras signed an appeal to all foreign friends of France to join in aiding 
the French. Canudo himself, who was not a French citizen, asked and was 
granted permission to join the Foreign Legion in a special regiment of vol- 
unteers organized and led by Peppino Garibaldi (a grandson of Giuseppe 
Garibaldi). This is not a mere historical detail, but rather an eloquent sign 
of the cross-national idealism that was at the root of Canudo's and others' 
desire to fight. Although the violence of World War One and the frustra- 
tion that the war eventually generated were at the root of Mussolini' for- 
mation (and of what was to become the opportunism and ruthlessness of 
the fascist movement) to associate Canudo with fascism on the basis of his 
enthusiasm for Latin culture and his willingness to fight in what seemed a 
heroic war seems excessive and unwarrented. The myth of redemptive vio- 
lence was as powerful on the right as it was on the left, and was hardly con- 
nected exclusively with fascism. However, it was precisely the spectacle of 
the reality of violence in the war (rather than the fantasy of violence, which 
could indeed be liberating) that led Valentine to revise entirely her pro-war 
position, while Canudo became a war hero and entirely committed to the 
heroic ethos of war for the duration of the conflict. 

Canudo was decorated in 1915 for fighting valiantly in the Argonne 
as captain of a detachment of Italian volunteers. He was subsequently 
wounded and while he recovered in a hospital in Nice he wrote the first of 
his many war poems, which were well received and were awarded the Prix 
Montyon in 1917. In May of 1915, he received the news that Italy had 
joined the war and that the Garibaldi legion had consequently been dis- 
solved. In Serbia, with the rank of Captain of the Italian army, he asked 
and obtained permission to fight with the French. In September 1915, he 

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Eroticism, Violence, and Feminism 



embarked with the First Zouave regiment for the Dardanelles. He was 
wounded during the devastating December retreat, but refused to be evac- 
uated. Before being reassigned to the Italian army in the Orient, he was sta- 
tioned in Salonika, where during his stay in the military hospital he found- 
ed a new journal of art and literature, Ça Ira. In August of the same year, 
he visited Valentine in Barcelona before going back to the Greek front. In 
November, he received a silver medal for having rescued another captain, 
wounded during a reconnaissance beyond the enemy lines on the hills west 
of Monastir. Canudo fought valiantly for the rest of the war, was wound- 
ed and decorated again. 

Canudo became a kind of wartime legend in his own lifetime, with 
performances about his life staged in Parisian theatres and war sites named 
after him. His relationship with Valentine ended during the war. In 1920 
he met and later married a young professor of French, Jeanne Benoite 
Janin, who became Valentine's best friend and companion after Canudo's 
death. 

After the war, until his death from malaria in 1923, Canudo devoted 
himself almost entirely to cinema. With Abel Canee, Germaine Dulac, and 
Jeanne Janin, he started a club for friends of the seventh art, writing film 
criticism and promoting film as an art throughout Europe, although he 
never abandoned the cause of "Latin culture" and was active in the "Union 
of the Mediterranean races of Europe, America, Asia and Africa." Canudo's 
concept of "race," however, was not ethnic or eugenic, but cultural. 

III. Marinetti and Sorel: the Myth of Violence 

While after 1914 Canudo (like Marinetti) never explicitly questioned the 
heroism of violence and war, Valentine, who was fascinated by the myth of 
redemptive violence and by the futurists' belligérant language, by 1917 
entirely rejected her earlier views. In order to understand how Valentine's 
encounter with futurism came about and the role that the myth of violence 
played in that encounter, it is important to understand Marinetti's position 
in Paris at the time, and his own particular take on the destructiveness of 
female lust. 

When Valentine de Saint-Point wrote her first belligérant futurist 
manifesto in 1912, futurism had already produced a significant body of 
work and Marinetti was well-known and even notorious in Paris. 
Marinetti, who spoke, wrote, and even dreamt in French at the time, had 
published two collections of symbolist poetry (La conquête des étoiles and 
Destruction) and the novel Mafarka le futuriste. The work which most con- 
tributed, along with the "Founding and Manifesto of Futurism," to make 

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his reputation in France, however, was the play Le Roi Bombance, per- 
formed in Paris at the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre in 1909, shortly after the pub- 
lication of the "Founding and Manifesto" in Le Figaro. 

The protagonist of the play is "L'Idiot": the unheeded poet who, in con- 
trast to the grossly materialist concerns of the politicians, hungers for the 
absolute and eventually dies from disgust and disillusionment. The work was 
a deliberate attempt to outrage, to offend, and to scandalize. It included a 
riot during which a mob lead by a socialist agitator storms and overtakes the 
royal castle, proceeding to devour and then vomit the body of the King. 

The press called the piece barbaric and anti-French, and there was 
intense speculation as to the "real" identity of some of the characters, in 
whom some recognized allusions to actual socialist and anarchist agitators 
of the time. Marinetti was delighted by this reaction.-' 

In 1906, Georges Sorel's articles had begun appearing in Mouvement 
Socialiste and were eventually collected in book form under the title 
Reflexions sur la violence in 1908. For Marinetti and many others it was a 
revelation. Sorel provided a model for a form of modern heroism that 
could replace the obsolete and powerless romanticism of "L' Idiot." Like 
Marinetti, and like Valentine, Sorel had grown disenchanted with the dem- 
agoguery of French socialism, increasingly caught up in the seductions of 
parliamentary politics. Beginning to look elsewhere for an agent of regen- 
eration, he developed the myth of heroic and aggressive action by a group 
of men bound together by fervent solidarity and motivated by a passionate 
confidence in the possibility of total change. 

The exhilarating possibilities of this ethics of action, heroic sublimity 
and tribalist solidarity were at the core of the futurist movement and con- 
tributed to give it its initial impetus. 22 The futurist exaltation of violence 
(and also Valentine's own particular version of it) must be seen in the con- 
text of this passionate and rather idealistic and Utopian ethic. Others were 
interested in the notion of violence elaborated by Sorel (Lenin for exam- 
ple, and certainly Mussolini), but had more practical or instrumental 
visions of its possible uses. In creating futurism, on the other hand, 
Marinetti embraced the Sorelian ethic of a group living in the midst of a 
continuous crisis and anticipating a future of radical transformation. 
Women, however, were initially excluded from the revolutionary group, 
which defined itself as essentially masculine and misogynist, thus effective- 
ly perpetuating the mentality of bourgeois patriarchy (as well as romantic 
and symbolist stereotypes). 

In the first act of Le Roi Bombance, "L'Idiot " inveighs against the body 
of woman, which in his view is always "fatal" to man, and women are 

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Eroticism, Violence, and Feminism 



expelled from the kingdom from the outset; they cannot easily be "digest- 
ed," in fact, due to their insatiable and uncontrollable lust (166-167). As far 
back as La Conquête des étoiles, the feminine principle in Marinetti's work is 
negative and opposed to the positive masculine principle, alone capable of 
reaching the superior ideal symbolized by the stars. In the hallucinatory 
symbolist language of Marinetti's poems, as in so many other literary texts 
of that period, female sexuality is repeatedly associated with abjection and 
destruction, and at the same time it is the object of extended sado-masochis- 
tic fantasies often linked to the image — both dreaded and desired — of 
engulfment or of the bad and the good mother.23 "The Founding and 
Manifesto" of ftiturism, with its outspoken "mépris de la femme" did not 
substantially alter this vision of woman and female sexuality. 

It was only through Valentine de Saint-Point that Marinetti's aware- 
ness of the potential interest of women for futurism and, viceversa, of the 
ways in which futurism could benefit from launching different cultural 
and political models for women as well as for men, turned into something 
like a strategy. 

rV. Valentine, Futurism and Luxure 

It was in opposition to Marinetti's expressions of misogyny, which had 
migrated seemingly unaltered into the futurist works, and by launching a 
defence of female lust, that Valentine de Saint-Point entered the fiiturist 
arena. On the occasion of the 1912 exhibition of futurist painting in Paris, 
Marinetti, Boccioni, Severini and other futurists had been invited to 
Valentine's atelier for an evening of performance. "Le Vendeur de soleil" by 
Rachilde, who was in the audience, was performed, but Marinetti also 
declaimed one of Valentine's poems, "Hymne au soleil." A second evening 
of performance took place at Valentine's atelier in June, with music by 
Ravel, Satie and Debussy, dances by Trouhanova, and a performance of 
Villier de I'lsle Adam's La Révolte. 

Impressed by Valentine, who had publicly declared her agreement with 
fiiturist principles but vehemendy disputed the futurist devaluation of 
woman, Marinetti invited her to become the first futurist woman. In her 
letter of adhesion, Valentine claimed to have in her life and work fore- 
shadowed futurism, but she (like Canudo) expressed disagreement with the 
futurist iconoclastic rage: past masterpieces should not be sacrificed to the 
new {Manifeste 9-10). 

In March, between the two performance evenings, she wrote her 
"Manifeste de la femme futuriste," which was published in June after she 
declaimed it in Brussels at the Galerie Giroux on the 3rd, in conjunction 

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with the travehng exhibition of futurist painting, and in Paris at the salle 
Caveau on the 27th. Both events were advertised and animated by the 
futurists with their usual flair for controversy and noisy publicity. The Paris 
reading and debate were heated and members of the audience were so scan- 
dalized that the evening ended in chaos. Valentine herself was immediate- 
ly branded as immoral and even homosexual by some.^^ 

Her notoriety reached its peak when she attempted to clarify her ideas 
(which she felt had been distorted and misinterpreted by journalists) in the 
second manifesto, the one on lust, dated 1 1 January 1913. The liberatory 
sexual message was immediately picked up by Lacerbds Italo Tavolato — a 
futurist and one of the few open homosexuals at the time — who published 
his own "Glossa sopra il manifesto futurista della lussuria" on 13 March 
1913. Tavolato read Valentine's manifesto as a rehabilitation of desire in its 
multiple forms and as a critique of sexual moralism, including the centu- 
ry-long tradition of homophobia. Copies of Valentine's manifesto had been 
delivered to Lacer ba by Palazzeschi. 

The manifestos were eventually translated into twenty-three lan- 
guages. Saint-Point reading her manifestos became a feature of a futurist 
traveling performance in 1913 that was staged in art galleries, cabarets, and 
clubs throughout Europe, including London, Berlin, and Rotterdam. By 
the end of the year, however, Valentine had already cut herself off from 
futurism to pursue her own avant-garde dance project, Métachorie. 

Many of the ideas in Valentine's manifestos were derived directly from 
her previous work, though the rhetoric and form of the manifesto make 
their impact more powerful and less nuanced. Anticipating a theme that 
was later to gain wide currency in contemporary feminist theory, Valentine 
argued against biological essentialism, claiming that to divide humanity 
along gender lines on the basis of sexual difference is absurd inasmuch as 
it is neither an absolute nor a valid basis for differentiating among human 
beings. Not only do men and women alike partake of the masculine and 
the feminine in varying degrees across a spectrum of sexual roles and atti- 
tudes, but, according to Valentine, the feminine and the masculine them- 
selves are relative categories, culturally and historically variable and subject 
to change, rather than a fixed binary opposition. For Valentine (as for, 
much later, Julia Kristeva) it is not the biological sex of a person, but the 
subject position he or she takes within a given cultural and social context 
that defines his or her identity and transgressive potential. 

If women at present happen to be trapped by the traditional patriar- 
chal roles and values denounced by Marinetti, it is not because these roles 
belong to them naturally or by instinct, Valentine argues in "Le manifeste 

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Eroticism, Violence, and Feminism 



de la femme futuriste," for women can also be virile warriors: "guerrières 
qui combattent plus férocement que les mâles" {Manifeste 16). Valentine, 
however, sees the potential role of futurist women as that of undermining 
the present social order precisely from within the key institutions of patri- 
archy. Within the family, she argues, woman should become the sole ruler 
of her children, and only as long as the children need her protection. She 
should, furthermore, abandon those qualities of passivity and patience that 
have traditionally been assigned to her as the angel of the hearth. The role 
of wife should be abolished altogether, freeing woman from her subjection 
to man. 

One of the most striking contentions of Valentine's two manifestos, 
although couched in a rather melodramatic and hyperbolic language 
designed (in true futurist fashion) to shock the audience, was the notion 
that the libido or life-instinct is a sexually unmarked instinctual force 
active in both men and women, whose potential violence is also common 
to both sexes. Valentine cites the Amazons, the Biblical Judith, Cleopatra, 
Messalina, and Charlotte Corday — among others — as examples of female 
warriors capable of fighting more bravely than men (16). Furthermore 
Valentine, like Freud, argues that all human beings are essentially bisexual, 
and that "femininity" and "masculinity" are not "natural" or "proper" to 
either sex: both man and woman can partake of masculinity and feminin- 
ity in different degrees (14). 

Like Marinetti (and Freud to some extent) Valentine associates virility 
with war, conflict and aggression, and femininity with peace, mediation and 
non-violence (as well as intuition and imagination). She denies, however, 
that women are naturally, "by instinct" wise, peaceful, and "good" (17), 
thus implicitly rejecting the notion that women are inherently "feminine." 
This is the core of her objections to Marinetti, who in his work had 
appeared to conflate women and the feminine. Furthermore, unlike 
Marinetti, she judges that both individuals and social groups in which mas- 
culinity predominates are unproductive and brutish. The present moment 
in her view sets an excess not of masculinity, however, but of femininity; 
Valentine thus concurs with Marinetti as well as Nietzsche, for whom fem- 
ininity was also a marker of all that was deprecable in the fm-de-siècle. 

A compensatory plunge into brutal force, according to Valentine, is 
what is needed in this excessively effeminate age. Yet no revolution can be 
accomplished without women; indeed, according to Valentine, women are 
potentially the most powerful agents of revolution. Within this revolu- 
tionary perspective, the suffragist feminist movement appears counterpro- 
ductive. As is the case with Julia Kristeva's notorious skepticism vis-à-vis 

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women's rights movements, Valentine was a feminist who did not beheve 
in feminism as a poUtical movement. According to Valentine, giving 
women the vote would normalize them and defuse their revolutionary 
potential, not, as Marinetti thought, produce a welcome disorder and 
destruction in the European parliamentary systems. Like Marinetti, 
Valentine is against the bourgeois family as the primary cell of conser- 
vatism and feels that sexual union should be separate from the rearing of 
children, who belong solely to the mother. 

But it was the truly shocking last section of Valentine's manifesto that 
made her a precursor of the likes of Artaud and Bataille as well as that of 
more recent (and literal-minded) performance artists, such as Orlan and 
Gina Pane (though contemporary women's performances seem to tend to 
use violence almost exclusively masochistically). Here Valentine builds on 
her initial idea of woman as a potential warrior, taking it to an extreme that 
goes well beyond Joan of Arc and Charlotte Corday, women who were, 
after all, national heroines. War in Valentine's vision becomes a pleasurable 
form of extreme sadism, sublime because violently transgressive. She 
invokes mutilation of the enemy (a clear metaphor for castration) as a plea- 
surable and sublime act. Although Valentine, like some prominent con- 
temporary Italian, French, and American feminists, recognizes maternity as 
an essential feature of womanhood, she is far from any sentimental vision 
of the maternal as inherently non-violent. On the contrary, for her procre- 
ation is yet another extreme act, for the life of the children is destined to 
be sacrificed in the carnage of war. 

Given Marinetti's and the ftiturists' blatant misogyny, it has often 
appeared surprising and paradoxical that Valentine should have been 
attracted by futurism, that ftiturism should have enjoyed a notable success 
among women, and that later a considerable number of women intellectu- 
als should have wished to become ftiturists themselves. To attribute this 
phenomenon to a form of collective female masochism, however, is both 
disingenuous and overly simplistic. Indeed, at least in the case of Valentine 
de Saint- Point, the opposite impulse was blatantly at work. She was attract- 
ed by the violence promised by ftiturism and she wished to partake in it 
not as an object but as a subject. This shamelessly "masculine," active and 
aggressive impulse (which placed Valentine de Saint-Point in a position 
similar to that of certain Greek heroines — Medea, Elektra, Clitemnestra — 
whom she admired) appears to be precisely what still makes Valentine dis- 
turbing and unacceptable to some of her critics. 

What distinguishes Valentine's position most sharply from that of 
Marinetti, and the reason of the controversy that led her to write the sec- 

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Eroticism, Violence, and Feminism 



ond manifesto, is her re-evaluation of female eros and sexual desire, which 
she calls luxure. The word, as we have seen, is reminiscent of Dante's lus- 
suria as evoked by Canudo, but it also alludes to woman's sensual luxe, the 
fetishistic and narcissistic desire for expensive and beautiful ornamentation 
of the body. 

In Valentine's rather Reichian view, however, luxure and the eroticism 
of the body are not associated principally with woman and the female 
body. Instead, luxure is the most potentially transgressive force in human 
existence for both men and women, who must become conscious of its 
psychology and value while freeing themselves from all forms of sentimen- 
tal mystification and moralism. Female sexuality in particular does not 
have to be passive, hidden, or repressed, she argues in "Manifeste futuriste 
de la luxure." It can on the contrary be a source of strength and creative 
inspiration for women. In opposition to all the fin-de-siècle and belle 
époque stereotypes of female sexuality as primitive, uncontrollable, dan- 
gerous and animalistic, Valentine's notion of luxure as a creative force con- 
stitutes a significant reappropriation of female desire by a woman. Of all of 
Valentine's ideas, this was probably the most influential. It resonated 
deeply within futurism and we find variations of it in the work of Mina 
Loy, Enif Robert and Benedetta, among others. 

Crucial in Valentine's argument is the notion that the traditional 
body/mind or body/spirit dichotomy which permeated traditional as well 
as much avant-garde art is untenable. The search for the unknown can be 
undertaken through the body (24). Indeed, there is an epistemological and 
spiritual dimension of the body, and of eroticism in its extreme forms, that 
has been ignored for too long. For Valentine, the flesh can be creative just 
like the spirit can, and neither is superior to the other. This argument's sub- 
text is clearly the alignment of the body with the "inferior" feminine realm, 
in opposition to the superiority of male spirituality and creativity — an 
argument that dates back to Plato and subtends his praise of spiritual male 
homosexual love as superior to heterosexual love. Valentine, echoing 
Nietzsche, criticizes the Christian devaluation of the sensual body, its turn- 
ing of luxure into a vice and a sin, and calls for an end to the repression of 
desire between two bodies, "whatever their sex" (27). 

But it is not enough to ban all sentimentalism and pruderie (as advo- 
cated by Marinetti): luxure must be reflected on, it must become the 
domain of the intellect as well as the flesh, and even be shaped like a work 
of art, exalting the individuals' reciprocal sensibility and sensuality (28). 
Clearly, we are far from Marinetti's "contatti rapidi e disinvolti" as well as 
from his statement in "Against Love and Parliamentarism" (1910) that lus- 



55 



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suria was as unnecessary as sentimentalism, coitus being needed only for 
the reproduction of the species. To Valentine, luxure vanst be as daring and 
experimental, as complex, dynamic, and visionary as avant-garde art itself 
Like avant-garde art, luxure in this sense is the work of a visionary élite that 
promises to be liberatory for humanity as a whole. In its ever-renewed, 
perennially unappeased, and thus future-oriented movement-the move- 
ment of desire itself- Valentine's luxure becomes indeed a metaphor for the 
dynamic, violent spirit of the avant-garde ("la perpétuelle bataille jaimais 
gagnée") if not of futurism per se. 

The ultimate difference between Valentine and Marinetti is that the 
ideal futurist hero(ine) for Valentine is neither a man nor a woman, but an 
altogether new being who would challenge the hegemonic gender codes of 
the fm-de-siècle and the belle époque, as well as Marinetti's own misogynis- 
tic rhetoric. Just as Valentine was unable fully to accept and embrace futur- 
ism's literalization of war and the actual celebration of the carnage in which 
Canudo also took part, Marinetti was unable to accept the conceptual, sym- 
bolic violence of Valentine's idea of the androgyne, or female warrior. 

Contrary to Monique Wittig (in whose 1 969 Utopian novel Les guéril- 
leres one can see substantial affinities not only with Valentine's ideas on 
women, but also with certain futurist narrative strategies) Valentine does 
not offer a militant exaltation of the supremacy of women. Valentine's 
notion of an exceptional being echos rather the classical topos of the 
androgyne which appeared often in her poetic texts,25 and also fascinated 
Sibilla Aleramo and other women modernists and avant-gardists. Virginia 
Woolf 's 1929 A Room of One's Own helped to make the androgyne one of 
the central concepts of the contemporary feminist debate on sexual differ- 
ence. In France, the mythic figure of the androgyne emerged in the work 
of another, later lover of Nietzsche, the feminist theorist Luce Irigaray. 

Like Virginia Woolf, Valentine de Saint-Point was interested in a new 
kind of "superior" subject with an emotional and intellectual range that 
included both male and female elements. And like Virginia Woolf, 
Valentine's deconstruction of sexual identity — despite its authentically 
feminist implications — prevented her from sympathizing with the reform- 
ist political position in the bourgeois feminist struggles of her day. 
However, Valentine's androgynous ideal is not (as Woolf's might have 
been) a way of repressing her ambition, and her condition as woman. -6 
Nor is it certainly a way, as in Carolyn Heilbrun's work, to envision the 
possibility to free men from the compulsion to violence. 

Valentine's androgynous ideal, which became important in her theory 
and practice of dance, was antithetical to the prevalent misogynist evolu- 

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Eroticism, Violence, and Feminism 



tionist scenario and specifically to Darwin's notion that an androgynous 
being might have been a remote primitive progenitor of the whole inver- 
tebrate kingdom. Darwin's (and Weininger's) view was that the evolution- 
ary division of the sexes led to the "natural" and progressive division of 
responsibilities whereby men acquired the superior evolutionary task of 
production and creativity, while women were confined to the more primi- 
tive and repetitive fiinction of reproduction. This vision was also embraced 
by fascism, which considered all forms of crossed gender roles, androgyny 
or bisexuality, to be dangerous and sick. Valentine, on the contrary, how- 
ever mindful of the classical and romantic myth, turns the androgyne into 
a future-oriented ideal. Her androgyne is neither a hybrid, primordial 
being split into male and female, nor (as in the romantic version), the pri- 
mary male essence "completed" by the female essence.-^ Hers is a being 
("Être") in whom — whatever his or her sex — the power and strength of 
both masculinity and femininity are combined in an unfixed, constantly 
(and historically) shifi:ing dynamism. As such, the androgyne to Valentine, 
like Irigaray, can only be a state of mind, a way of thinking, feeling and 
constructing the reciprocal dialectic of body and mind, flesh and spirit. 

V. Meta-dance, Abstraction, Androgyny and Aridity 

The dance spectacle that she named Metachorie (literally "Beyond the cho- 
rus") became the principal vehicle for Valentine's vision of the modernist 
androgyne. In her manifesto, "La Metachorie," Valentine explains that she 
takes "chorus" as a synonym of dance; thus hers is really a meta-dance. It 
goes beyond dance as traditionally conceived and, at the same time, it is a 
critical reflection on dance through dance. An early commentator, Henri 
Le Bret, further explains that Metachorie also defies the spirit of the Greek 
chorus, which was to express the crushing inevitability of Fate (30). One 
of the apparent inevitabilities that Valentine seeks to defy is precisely that 
of an essential sexual difference between man and woman. Although she is 
a female performer, she rejects the traditional association between the 
dancing body and feeling, passion, intuition, the heart, nature, and spon- 
taneity as embodied especially by Isadora Duncan, who had famously 
danced naked on the stage, seeking to incarnate the eternal essence of 
woman. 28 In Metachorie, Valentine seeks to reject the mythical spontane- 
ity, naturalness and femininity of eroticism, taking eroticism itself to a 
higher level of abstraction where the traditional borders between body and 
mind, and female and male, are called into question. 

Valentine also rejects mimesis, imitation and pantomime (however 
stylized) and any movement that might suggest a realistic imitation or copy 

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of life or nature. Loie Fuller, probably the most famous dancer of the belle 
epoque, excelled in the art of imitating flowers, butterflies, and moths, 
partly through the help of vast quantities of fabric and gauze in her stun- 
ning billowing costumes. Marinetti and prominent futurists such as Balla 
and Severini admired her innovative use of light, which expanded rhyth- 
mical movement and the dance' s dynamism beyond the natural confines 
of the body. Her diaphanous costumes however, tended to reveal rather 
than hide the body, creating the effect of a fusion of the sensuous female 
form with the natural being she imitated. In positivist culture of course, 
woman was supposed to be naturally imitative as well as closer to nature; 
hence her inferiority in comparison to man, who was thought to be more 
rational and abstract. It is an opposition that keeps resurfacing stubbornly 
even within the avant-garde, and especially in the work of abstractionists 
such as Mondrian and Kandinsky. 

In contrast to both Duncan and Fuller, Valentine's theory requires that 
the body and face of the dancer be veiled. The function of the veil (or 
mask) is not only to de-personalize and de-naturalize the body, but also to 
de-feminize it at times, making it more ambiguous and abstract. The 
details of the face and of the body must remain hidden so that only the 
essential lines of the body's movement and rhythm are visible. Veiling or 
masking the face in particular prevents the illusion of being able to deci- 
pher the dance on the basis of visual expression, the "natural" reflection of 
feeling and emotion in the face. In "La Métachorie," Valentine is also crit- 
ical of classical ballet and of the way the ballerina, in her esthetic positions, 
is supposed to recall and represent a classical vision of beauty. In classical 
ballet, Valentine feels, movement is only a connecting link between beau- 
tiful positions, while she wishes to make movement itself significant. 

In a formulation that shows the futurist influence on her, she not only 
stresses the essential importance of movement for modern art, but empha- 
sizes also the need for precision. (Violence and precision were the key com- 
ponents of the quintessential futurist art of the manifesto, as Marjorie 
Perloff has shown). One cannot dance intuitively and rhythmically, fol- 
lowing the spontaneous lead of the body as it follows music. Nor should 
dance be subordinated or accessory to music. Dance must be an exactly 
calculated and choreographed, disciplined set of movements that embody 
an idea or vision. In this case, such an idea or vision is not a Platonic 
essence, but an interpretation of a series of poems written by Valentine her- 
self The dance does not illustrate the poem in any way, however, but rather 
offers through movement an interpretation of its meaning. The dance is 
the "plastic expression of the spirit and of the movement of the psyche" 

— 58 — 



Eroticism, Violence, and Feminism 



that subtend each poem (53). The dance thus becomes a kind of abstract, 
interpretive and figurai writing that coincides with the poem's reading. 

The exactly calculated and choreographed dance is in fact only one ele- 
ment of the spectacle of Métachorie, that includes the reading of poems 
from off-stage by an actor (a kind of disembodied, abstract voice) music, 
and light projections of colours and geometrical shapes. Valentine envi- 
sions Métachorie as a synthesis of music, poetry, dance, and geometry. 
Geometry for her stands also, partly but not exclusively through perspec- 
tive, as a figure for architecture, painting, and sculpture. Her statement on 
the centrality of geometry brings to mind the role of sacred geometry in 
certain forms of abstraction, for example in Mondrian (but also in futur- 
ism, as for example in Balla) v/here it is connected to theosophical ideas. 
Such an esoteric connection is also implicit in Valentine, though without 
the essentialist underpinnings in terms of gender that are present in 
Mondrian. -9 The basic abstract geometrical shapes drawn by the moving 
body are the line, the square, the circle, the cone, and the spiral, each with 
its rich background of esoteric connotations. For Valentine, the face and 
body must be veiled, and sexuality spiritualized and shaped by the intel- 
lect. "^o Foreshadowing her interest in Islam, Valentine's veiled face and body 
and the geometric patterning of her choreographies suggest the traditional 
Islamic rejection of the figure and of mimesis in favour of refined and intri- 
cate abstraction. 

The reactions to Valentine's first dance performance, which took place 
on 20 December 1913 at the Comédie des Champs Elysées and was intro- 
duced by a reading oi her manifesto by a male actor, were contradictory. 
Some felt that Valentine's dance had an excessively athletic, masculine mus- 
cular quality, others that the dancer seemed naked under her feminine 
diaphanous tulles.-^' Gunter Berghaus perceptively remarks that the second 
impression was probably an effect of the lighting. However, what the reviews 
seem to point to is really the gender ambiguity of the performance, as well as 
its unusual complexity, and the difficulty involved in deciphering it. 

The performance was articulated in four interconnected parts, each of 
which corresponded to a series of Valentine's own poems that were read 
offstage by a male actor: poems of love, atmospheric poems, pantheistic 
poems, and war poems. Each was accompanied by a different music: 
Florent Schmitt's "La guerre dans les airs," Debussy's "Demoiselle élue," 
Satie's "Les pantins dansent" and "Hymne au soleil," and, probably, the 
futurist Balilla Pratella's "La guerra." (Pratella's music had been commis- 
sioned by Marinetti in 1912 specifically to accompany Valentine's war 
poem). 32 

— 59 — 



Lucia Re 



Valentine's costumes for the first performance were designed by Vivian 
du Mas and must therefore be seen in a theosophical context as well. They 
were of three different kinds: Greek-like robes and drapings with flowing 
and diaphanous multi-colored tulles, simple, almost severe orientalist cos- 
tumes, and martial-looking costumes with Merovingian details such as the 
plumed helmet mentioned by Marinetti in the highly critical "Manifesto 
della danza futurista" of 8 July 1917. While the most clearly androgynous 
costume was the last, which made Valentine appear like a phantasmagori- 
cal warrior, the series of dances was apparently meant to be seen as a con- 
flicting and dynamic whole. Each dance evokes a possible gender position 
as well as a historical moment, in a homage to both the national past and 
Valentine's personal past — however modernistically reinterpreted — that 
could only be anathema to futurism. 

In his 1917 critique of Valentine's Métachorie, Marinetti denounced 
the "aridity" of Valentine's excessively abstract, cold, and cerebral style and 
objected to the dancer's wearing of an oriental veil and a warrior-like, 
plumed helmet {Teoria 146-147). Such a critique is effectively equivalent 
to accusing Valentine of being unfeminine. Aridity (a term also used by 
Locke 74)33 is bm another word for frigidity here, the inability to feel and 
give pleasure as a woman; and the plumed helmet represents yet another 
usurpation of the phallus. As for the oriental veil, its symbolism is doubly 
heretical: on the one hand it hides the feminine body that futurism wish- 
es to control and even expropriate, making it unavailable and abstract, on 
the other hand the veil evokes the very same decadent and orientalist fem- 
inine sensuality that futurism wished to eradicate and supplant. For 
Valentine, the veil represents a personal, symbolic connection with Lamar- 
tine's Orient, even as the Orient had increasingly become for many nation- 
alists — for example Barrés — a sign of everything that was dangerously cor- 
rupting and alien to the spiritual health of France. Later in her life, 
Valentine would actually experience the political complexities of veiling in 
a colonial and Muslim context. Most heretical from a futurist viewpoint, 
however, is the copresence of those two symbols — the masculine plumed 
helmet and the feminine oriental veil — and the symbolic oscillation 
between the two. It is this androgynous oscillation that makes Valentine 
unacceptable to Marinetti. 

While Marinetti initially welcomed Valentine and was even influenced 
by her in some ways, he was not yet ready for a female warrior. As femi- 
nized and androgynous as some fiiturist heroes and images are — including 
the maternal Mafarka and Boccioni's pregnant "Materia" — and as impor- 
tant a role the "feminine" body, matter, and intuition had for futurism in 

— 60 — 



Eroticism, Violence, and Feminism 



charting its transgressive course, the figure of the abstracted, "mascuhn- 
ized," strong erotic woman still remained excessive and intolerable. 

For Marinetti, futurist dance had to glorify male heroism and man's 
symbiosis with the machines of speed and war. Conventional notions of 
choreography and all harmonious motions traditionally considered to 
evoke beauty, seductiveness, eroticism, and sentiments in dance and ballet 
were to be abolished and replaced by a new kind of anti-esthetic and asex- 
ual performance. Unlike Métachorie, futurist dance was to be not abstract, 
but rather representational and mimetic.^^ 

VI. Goodbye to All That 

During the war, Valentine worked for the Red Cross. She also taught her 
theory and practice of dance to a small group of male students that was 
soon called to war and devastated by casualties. It was an experience that 
led to a radical change of perspective, making her, unlike Canudo, very 
critical of the war. Although she continued to see in the unavoidable vio- 
lence of war a kind of terrible and creative beauty (thus still subscribing to 
an essential part of futurist esthetics), she increasingly came to consider the 
war a plot fomented by greed and hate. She felt that the individual had 
been reduced from human being to mere instrument. The act of veiling or 
masking the face in Métachorie thus took on an added significance for 
Valentine because, as she told Djuna Barnes, "it is the face and the words 
that issue from the mouth that make all the wars and all the racial disputes. 
Covered, nothing would stand in the way of the symbolic beauty of the 
individual conception of life" (Barnes 230). The interview with Djuna 
Barnes came out in April 1917, only a few months before the publication 
of Marinetti's resentflil "Manifesto of Futurist Dance." Valentine's perfor- 
mance of Métachorie (her last) at the Metropohtan Opera in New York on 
the very day of the United States' entrance into the war was actually a 
farewell of sorts to her old self ^5 Valentine spent the remainder of the war 
in Morocco and once again she began studying theosophy seriously. At the 
age of forty-two she converted to Islam, adopting yet another name: 
Rawhiyya Noureddine. 

Most critics have interpreted Valentine's conversion and her subse- 
quent move to Egypt in 1924 as a defeatist "dropping out" of the civilized 
world. ^^^ Others have seen it as a decidedly reactionary and anti-feminist 
turn in her life (Bentivoglio 15). As Zouari has shown, however, after the 
war Valentine actually first moved to Corsica, where she started an associ- 
ation, the "Collège des Elites," to promote the joint efforts of cultural elites 
in the West and the Orient to foster a spiritual rebirth and a common, 

— 61 — 



Lucia Re 



cooperative Mediterranean culture based on fraternity rather than exploita- 
tion and materialism. This valiant five-year effort collapsed in the face of 
scepticism, prejudice, and reciprocal suspicion that divided Muslims from 
non-Muslims. Even then, Valentine did not give up, but chose to direct her 
energy elsewhere. 

Approaching fifty, Valentine moved to Cairo with Jeanne Canudo and 
Vivian du Mas. The two women worked as journalists and took part in dis- 
cussions with the Egyptian feminist union (EFU), a diverse group of West- 
oriented Arabic and European women founded in 1924 by Huda 
Shaarawi, a highly-educated, charismatic upper-class woman who spoke 
French as well as Arabic. Seeking to combine European and Islamic femi- 
nism, Shaarawi traveled to international feminist conferences (including 
the 1923 meeting of the International Alliance for Women in Rome) and, 
like Valentine, was a supporter of Egyptian nationalism and later pan- 
Arabism. Shaarawi had been brought up in a harem, yet she argued that 
Islam granted women equal rights and that the Koran had been misinter- 
preted. Upon her return from the Rome conference she caused an uproar 
by appearing unveiled. Due to the ambiguous symbolic value of the veil, 
however, the EFU did not make unveiling a feminist issue (Shaarawi 35- 
44). Veiling (a practice shared by many Jewish, Christian and Islamic 
women in the urban centres of early twentieth-century Egypt) was in fact 
almost a female status symbol connected, like the harem and other means 
of female privacy and spatial seclusion, more to wealth and class than to 
religion (rural women went unveiled and poor women wore the veil only 
to go out). Veiling was indeed not required by the Koran, yet in European 
colonial rhetoric it was widely associated with Islam and taken as a sign of 
its inferiority and barbarism. ^7 Female self-veiling, practiced by Valentine 
herself, could thus be construed as an anti-colonial and paradoxically fem- 
inist gesture. 

Valentine became increasingly sceptical of the Western (and specifical- 
ly French) orientation of Egyptian feminism, which she found too conser- 
vative. She argued that the feminist movement in France was a failure 
because, in contrast to Germany and England (where suffragism had been 
far more radical and violent), women had been unable to gain the vote. She 
was ostracized by the moderate EFU because she openly advocated an 
alternative. Islamic model. In seeking modernization, Valentine felt, 
Islamic women should not mimic the French, for this would only lead to 
defeat and to the loss of their traditional identities and backgrounds. ^^ 

Valentine's position in Cairo was made more difficult by her uncon- 
ventional private life. Her lover, Fouad Nared (a poet and journalist who 

— 62 — 



Eroticism, Violence, and Feminism 



was the son of a British diplomat) was considerably younger than she was. 
Even more worrisome to the colonial elite, however, was Valentine's strange 
ménage with a man and a woman, Vivian du Mas and Jeanne Canudo, and 
their mysterious theosophic dealings. 

In the mid-to-late 1920s, Valentine wrote consistently in support of 
the "Egypt for the Egyptians" movement and pan-Arab nationalism in her 
journal Le Phoenix, subtitled "Organe de la Renaissance Orientale." The 
title of the journal is doubly significant. In alluding to the mythical bird 
reborn from the ashes of its former self, it points to the imminent meta- 
morphosis and rebirth of the colonial territories. At the same time, it 
evokes Valentine's own capacity for intellectual rebirth and metamorpho- 
sis, and her interest in androgyny (the phoenix, a key symbol of theosophy, 
was both male and female). The journal was read especially in Syria and 
Lebanon, where it was often censored. With Jeanne Canudo and du Mas, 
Valentine founded a "Circle ideiste," which promoted children's literacy 
and a pedagogy based on theosophic principles. At the circle, which was 
open to Syrian nationalists, she lectured on the bankruptcy of Western civ- 
ilization and the faults of European colonialism, bitterly criticizing the 
French atrocities in Syria and the bloody repression of the anti-French 
Druze revolt of 1925-1927. Accused of disloyalty by the French legation, 
Jeanne Canudo and du Mas were expelled from Cairo and returned to live 
in France. Only Valentine was allowed to remain, probably to spare an 
embarrassment to her ex-husband, the minister Charles Dumont. 

In Cairo in the early 1930s Valentine met one last time with Marinetti, 
who was traveling through his native Egypt with his wife Benedetta. A 
reception in honour of Marinetti was organized by the Egyptian ftiturist of 
Italian and Austrian descent Nelson Morpurgo, who invited Valentine. In 
an interview, many years later, Morpurgo — who was one of the most promi- 
nent lawyers in the Italian colony in Cairo — recalled Valentine dressed and 
made up in an outrageous, incongruous way that looked to him like a 
grotesque masquerade (and was the antithesis of Benedetta's understated, 
elegant style). Apparently though, the older woman was still fascinating and 
had by then assumed such a mythic status as part of ftiturism's heroic and 
erotic past that Benedetta resented her presence and, losing her usual poise, 
made her feelings clear to the host and to her husband. ^'^ 

Valentine's last known published work was a collection of poems. La 
Caravane des chimères (1934). Towards the end of her long nomadic life, 
Valentine lived in rue Imad Eddine in Cairo, occasionally practicing 
acupuncture and "radiesthésie." In Cairo society she was rumored to be 
(like the femme fatale in the futurist film Thais) a magician with occult 

— 63 — 



Lucia Re 



powers. Having spent all her money (most of which ironically appears to 
have come from the divorce settlement with Dumont) on Le Phoenix, 
Valentine became disillusioned with politics and withdrew into a contem- 
plative, ascetic life until her death in 1953, the year of the declaration of 
Egyptian independence from colonial rule. 

University of California, Los Angeles 

NOTES 

^See for example Macciocchi 121, Blum 105-106, Spackman 37-40, 
Bentivoglio 14-15 and Lyon 149-150. Valentine's manifestos have been repub- 
lished and can be found in de Saint-Point, Manifeste. 

■^See for example Locke. For a more balanced view, see Franko. 

-'Zouari wrote her dissertation on Valentine de Saint-Point, on which she 
based a biography written in the form of a documentary novel, La Caravane des 
chimères. Zouari is also the author of the essay Pour en finir avec Shaharazade, a 
feminist critique of Orientalism. Zouari's interest in Valentine stems from 
Valentine's own interest from the mid- 1920s in the feminist and nationalist move- 
ments in Egypt. The biography by Richard de la Fuente also offers a useful 
account of Valentine's years in Egypt. 

'* Lamartine (1790-1869) was one of the most famous French romantic poets, 
intellectuals, travelers, and statesmen, author of the autobiographical Méditations 
poétiques (1820) and of the hugely popular Harmonies poétiques et religieuses 
(1830). After a journey to Egypt, Syria and Morocco chronicled in Voyage en 
Orient (1835), he was elected to the chamber of deputies and wrote celebrated 
essays about universal peace and the freedom of the press. His History of the 
Girondists (1847) foreshadowed the 1848 revolution. That year, he gained a post 
in the republican government as minister of foreign affairs, but his political activ- 
ities ceased entirely after the coup d'état by Napoleon III. Valentine commemo- 
rated Lamartine's role in 1848 in an early poem, "Lamartine," in Poèmes d'orgueil 
107-109. 

-"This is the spelling used by Zouari, though a variety of other spellings are 
adopted by different scholars. 

"See especially Nomadic Subjects. Neither here nor in the later Metamorphoses, 
however, does Braidotti seem to be aware of the ways in which the theme of 
nomadic, transformative subjectivity emerges in the work of avant-garde women 
artists such as Valentine and (in a different way) Rosa Rosa, author of the futurist 
novel Una donna con tre anime (1919). 

^Divorce had been reintroduced in France in 1884, but there was no mutual 
consent clause. By law, the husband's adultery was punished with a fine, while the 
punishment for women was imprisonment. Furthermore, women were still sub- 

— 64 — 



Eroticism, Violence, and Feminism 



ject to marital authorization. They gained legal control of their own earnings and 
finances, including divorce settlements, in 1907. 

°See Feminisms and Waelti-Walters, Feminist Novelists. The latter includes a 
useful discussion of Valentine's novels. 

^On sartorial female fetishism, see Apter. See also de Lauretis 273-274. 
Unlike Apter, who regards female fetishism as compensatory for any kind of 
deeply-felt loss, de Lauretis argues that female fetishism and masquerade are insep- 
arable from the specifically sexual castration complex. 

^^Later yet though, in Una sensibilità italiana nata in Egitto, Marinetti nos- 
talgically recalled Valentine's elegance at the time of the 1912 performance of her 
"Manifeste futuriste de la luxure," describing Valentine's luxurious real pearls, the 
sumptuous elegance of her silver shoe (fetishistically evoked in the singular) and 
"the most beautiful foot in the world"(288). 

^^The lecture, entitled "L'Œuvre du sculpteur Rodin," was delivered at the 
Université Populaire on 25 January. See Lista 56. 

^^See for example Cottington 191. Dotoli's work on Cantido, somewhat apolo- 
getic in tone, is very useful; see especially Lo scrittore totale. See also Canudo. 

^ ^Valentine lectured on contemporary literature and women at the Maison 
des Etudiants in Paris on 25 May 1911, and on women in the theatre at the 
Université Populaire du Fabourg Saint- Antoine in Paris on 2 December 1912. 

^'^See Guglielminetti. 

^^See Locke's reading (80-81) of the scene in L'Orbe pâle in which the female 
protagonist dreams of killing with her sword an Arab man who, like all men of all 
races and all religions, presumes to possess her sexually. 

^"On the development of Freud's notion of penis envy, see Laplanche and 
Pontalis 303-304. 

^'^D'Annunzio's tragedy was a flop on stage mainly as a result of an inade- 
quate cast and production, but later it was made into two successful films by 
Eduardo Bencivenga in 1912 and by Gabriellino D'Annunzio in 1921. 

^°On the psychoanalytic dimensions of "perverse desire" and the limits of the 
notion of the "masculinity complex" to define both lesbians (and, 1 would add, 
certain heterosexual women), see de Lauretis. 

^ ^Besides La Nave, Canudo translated into French the tragedy Fedra, and 
wrote screen adaptations for several of D'Annunzio's plays and novels. 
D'Annunzio was unhappy with both the translations and the screen adaptations 
however, perhaps because he felt that Canudo was infringing on his territory and 
taking too large a role in the Latin/Mediterranean revival movement. 

2^See the front-page editorial, "Gauche libérale," by Divoire. 

^^For Marinetti's account of the performance and the various reactions, see 
La grande Milano 80-84 and 279-287. 

^^In 1910 in Naples Marinetti gave a speech entitled "Bellezza e necessità 
della violenza" that is clearly and directly inspired by Sorel. 

— 65 — 



Lucia Re 



^^On the conflictual figurations of the mother in Mafarka^ see Spackman 52-76. 

^"^See Cannistraro and Sullivan 101-102, where it is reported that Diego 
Rivera believed Valentine de Saint-Point to be having a lesbian affair with 
Margherita Sarfatti. For a description of Valentine's performance and the ensuing 
chaos, see Severini 117-118. 

^^See for example the poem "Être." On the theme of the androgyne in 
Valentine, see Dotoli 173-175. Canudo was also fascinated by the theme of the 
androgyne and published a series of sonnets inspired by it in Poesia (1906-07). 

•^"This critique of Woolf appears in Showalter 264. 

^^On the romantic version of the androgyne, see Weil 63-72. 

■^^For a comparison between Isadora Duncan and Valentine, see Franko 21-24. 

^"On Mondrian's essentialism, see Cheetman. 

^^Although he initially welcomed them as a form of almost cinematic spec- 
tacle, Ricciotto Canudo criticized the commercialism of the Ballets Russes in 
Montojoie! 7 , 16 May 1913. See Cottington 191. 

^^See Berghaus. The article gives an overall account of the reviews. 

^^There is some question as to weather Pratella's music was actually used in 
this performance, as no reviewer mentions it. See Berghaus 30 and 42. 

^^Locke goes on to conclude in fact that Valentine's work has "no real femi- 
nine enjoyment, no ^trndXe. jouissance" (91). 

^^The actual futurist practice of choreography, dance, and performance in 
the 1 920s and 1 930s was very rich and complex, and included a variety of bril- 
liant avant-garde experiments with abstraction, "mechanical" ballet, pantomime, 
and aerial dance that went well beyond the limited parameters of Marinetti's man- 
ifesto. For an overview centered on the figure of the famous futurist dancer 
Giannina Censi, see the essays collected in Giannina Censi. 

~'^On the Metropolitan opera performance, see Satin. 

^"See for example Dotoli 171: "sconfìtta . . . lascia l'Europa e va a vivere fra 
i fumi dell'Oriente, in Egitto, dove morirà nel 1953." In fact, a number of disen- 
chanted French intellectuals converted to Islam and moved to Islamic countries 
after the First World War. One of them was André Guénon, who was once an 
acquaintance of Valentine's in Paris and became one of her few friends during her 
Egyptian period. Guénon, whose complex traditionalist, anti-modernist and 
occultist thought was coopted by Julius Evola and later by the esoteric fascist 
movement, died in Cairo in 1951. 

•''For example Lord Cromer, British consul general in Egypt from 1883 to 
1 907 (and a notorious anti-suffragist at home) often pointed to veiling as a symp- 
tom of the degradation of women and the most obvious sign of Islam's inferiority 
to Western civilization (Ahmed 151). 

^°Even in this, Valentine anticipated aspects of contemporary feminism. For 
a discussion of Islamic feminism as an alternative to imported European models, 
see Ahmed. 

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Eroticism, Violence, and Feminism 



^^The interview is in Lambiase and Nazzaro 112-114. Morpurgo states that 
the reception took place in 1938, but the most likely year is 1930. Marinetti and 
Benedetta's trip to Egypt is documented in the series of Marinetti's narrative frag- 
ments published in installments by La Gazzetta del Popolo in 1930 and later col- 
lected in the volume II fascino dell'Egitto (1933), now included in Teoria. 



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bilità italiana nata in Egitto. Ed. Luciano de Maria. Milan: Mondadori, 1969. 

Le Roi Bombance. Paris: Mercure de France, 1905. 

• Teoria e invenzione futurista. Ed. Luciano De Maria. Milan: Mondadori, 

1968. 
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: 

Vintage, 1974. 
Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Trans. Walter Kaufman. New York: Penguin, 

1978. 
Perlofif, Marjorie. The Futurist Moment: Avant-Garde, Avant Guerre, and the 

Language of Rupture. Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 1 986. 
Richard de la Fuente, Véronique. Valentine de Saint-Point (1875-1953). Une 

poétesse dans l'avant-garde futuriste et méditerranéiste. Céret: Éditions des 

Albères, 2003. 

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Eroticism, Violence, and Feminism 



Riviere, Joan. "Womanliness as Masquerade" pp. 35-44 in Formations of Fantasy. 

Eds. Victor Burgin, James Donald, Cora Kaplan. London: Methuen, 1986. 
Satin, Leslie. "Valentine de Saint-Point." Dance Research JournalTl (Spring 1990): 

1-12. 
Severini, Gino. La vita di un pittore {\9 AG) . Milan: Feltrinelli, 1983. 
Shaarawi, Huda. Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist (1879-1924). 

Trans, and ed. Margot Badran. New York: Feminist Press, 1986. 35-44. 
Showalter, Elaine. A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Bronte 

to Lessing. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977. 
Sorel, Georges. Reflections on violence. Trans. T. E. Hulme and J. Roth. 

Introduction by A. Shils. Glencoe, IL.: Free Press, 1950. 
Spackman, Barbara. Fascist Virilities. Rhetoric, Ideology, and Social Fantasy in Italy. 

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. 
Wael ti- Walters, Jennifer. Feminist Novelists of the Belle Epoque: Love as a Lifestyle. 

Bloomington: Indiana U.P., 1990. 
Weil, Kari. Androgyny and the Denial of Difference. Charlottesville: University of 

Virginia Press, 1992. 
Zouari, Fawzia. La Caravane des chimères. Paris: Olivier Orban, 1990. 

Pour en finir avec Shaharazad. Tunis: Ceres, 1996. 

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Université de Paris III, 1984. 



— 69 



BARBARA ZACZEK 



NARRATING A PARTISAN BODY: 

AUTOBIOGRAPHIES OF CARLA CAPPONI AND 

GIOVANNA ZANGRANDI 



On June 30th, 1946, L'Unità published a short story "La ragazza se ne va 
con Diavolo" by Marcello Venturi. The story opens with the image of 
Diavolo (a repubblichino sergeant), sitting on his motorcycle, smoking a 
cigarette, and waiting for a girl to show up. When Vera appears at a dis- 
tance, Diavolo notices the attention she gets from a group of soldiers and 
he is stricken by her attractiveness ("gli sembrò ancora più carina," 201). 
The narrator's gaze passes from Diavolo to Vera who is staring pensively at 
a big German pistol hanging from Diavolo's belt. After his reassurance that 
he will not hurt her, she mounts his motorcycle. Diavolo turns back to 
look at her knees and they take off When they reach a tree-lined alley, 
Diavolo turns off the engine and sits by Vera's side on the grass. He puts a 
hand on her knees. Vera asks him to take off the pistol and put it away 
because its sight scares her. When he does it, she tells him that she has 
heard of a certain Diavolo who has killed many partisans {banditi). 
Diavolo tries again to touch her knees, boasting of the three men he 
hanged himself only last week. Taking his hand between hers. Vera praises 
his strength and asks him to let her hold the pistol and show her how to 
shoot. While Diavolo instructs Vera how to press the trigger, she points the 
pistol at him and telling him that she is a partisan on a military mission, 
she shoots him right in the eyes. Two shots reverberate through the air and 
Vera calmly attaches the pistol to her own belt. 

Venturis story provides a perfect opening for the argument of my 
paper because it raises the question of gender within the partisan experi- 
ence. It makes a woman's body the key element of the plot, the force which 
builds up the suspense and carries the narration towards its fmal resolu- 
tion — Diavolo's assassination.' Since the success of Vera's mission depends 
solely on her ability to seduce him without raising any doubts as to her 
intentions, Vera has to play out a sexual fantasy. As an object of male desire, 
Vera's body fulfills social expectations and conforms to the common per- 
ception that a young, attractive woman would naturally seek and respond 

Quaderni d'halianistka. Volume XXIV, No, 2, 2003, 71 



Barbara Zaczek 



to male attentions. But Vera, as the story shows, is not merely a passive 
body, she is a partisan who deftly orchestrates a sequence of events to carry 
out her assignment. 

Venturis narration reenacts the tension between two images of Vera — 
the woman and the partisan — through a series of gazes which switch back 
and forth between Diavolo and Vera. Diavolo's gaze follows the movements 
of her body as he sees her at a distance, joins the appreciative attention of 
the soldiers (a proof of his good taste in women), and rests on Vera's 
knees — a promise of an easy conquest. Vera's gaze, in contrast to her words 
("Mi piacciono gli uomini forti come te", 201), follows only the move- 
ments of the pistol, the main object of her interest. From the passivity of 
their gazes, the narration moves into action: Diavolo touches her knees, 
hands her the pistol, again tries to make a pass at her but at that moment. 
Vera, the object of his attention, becomes a subject who takes control of 
the situation — "guardò Diavolo diretto negli occhi e puntando la rivoltel- 
la verso di lui lo uccise con due colpi" (201). 

The turning point of the story is the moment when Vera gets hold of 
the pistol, a symbol of phallic power and an attribute of a male soldier: 
"Estrasse dalla fondina la grossa pistola e tolse la sicurezza. Sembrò ancora 
piìj grossa, l'arma nel pugno piccolo e secco di Vera" (201). Vera's gesture — 
taking possession of a man's pistol (huge and naked without its sheath) 
functions on two levels; on a psychological level it evokes a Freudian fear 
of emasculation; on a social level it upsets the stereotype of power relations 
and signifies the transfer of power from a man to a woman. The incon- 
gruity of that transfer is apparent in the contrast between the size of the 
pistol and the smallness of Vera's dry hand. Since sweat is associated with 
nervousness, the dryness of Vera's hand emphasizes her self-assurance and 
lack of fear. She executes the fascist without a trace of emotion. The final 
act — attaching Diavolo's pistol to her own belt — signals Vera's transforma- 
tion from a passive object into an active agent. The look of shock and dis- 
belief on Diavolo's face at the moment of his death reflects the conflict 
between his perception of Vera (an attractive and submissive feminine 
body meant to fulfill his sexual desires) and the real Vera (in Italian Vera 
means "true"), a female partisan who undertakes a risky mission and brings 
it to completion. Diavolo sees Vera only through a lens of a social and cul- 
tural stereotype, never doubting its validity. That false perception is a fatal 
mistake which costs him his life. 

Venturi's fictionalized account of a partisan experience reflects a split 
in the representation of female body into an object (a social construct) and 
a subject (a physical self, conscious of its own agency).- Unfortunately, it 
breaks off without allowing us to follow the effects of that split on Vera's 

— 72 — 



Narrating a Partisan Body 



sense of identity and to pursue further inquiry into the complex reaUty of 
being a woman partisan. When was the body of a partisan gendered? Were 
there any circumstances which rendered sexual differences insignificant? 
How did women partisans themselves confront the gendered reality of the 
Resistance? In a sense, the autobiographical narratives of Carla Capponi 
and Giovanna Zangrandi are a continuation of Vera's story, thus providing 
us with a context to explore these questions. 

I 

Carla Capponi's autobiography Con cuore di donna; L'otto settembre, via 
Rasella, la guerra partigiana: i ricordi di una protagonista, was published 
only in the year 2000, that is, over half a century after the end of the war. 
Capponi was a member of a communist division of GAP (Gruppi di 
Azione Patriottica), paramilitary units under the command of the National 
Liberation Committee (CLN — Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale) dur- 
ing the Nazi occupation of Rome between September of 1943 until its lib- 
eration by the Allied Forces in June of 1944. Capponi's autobiography con- 
sists of two parts: the first dedicated to her childhood and adolescence, and 
the second to her involvement in the partisan activities. The first part 
focuses on the social and familiar background to explain reasons for her 
political beliefs and convictions, drawing a portrait of a girl whose trans- 
formation into a woman partisan we will witness in the second part. 

While the first part of Carla's autobiography lingers on descriptions of 
sentiments and feelings, providing the reader with an insight into Carla's 
mind and her familial background, the second part — the partisan experi- 
ence reflects the new awareness of her body and the part it will play in 
Carla's clandestine life. When Carla decides to become actively involved in 
the Resistance, she perceives herself as a dedicated patriot whose gender 
should not count in the fight for her country. To her mother's objection: 
"Ma sei matta! Ma che ci va a fare una donna? Quell'invito è rivolto agli 
uomini," Carla responds: "Donne e uomini saremo tutti utili" (96). And 
yet, as she soon discovered, the fact that she is an attractive young woman, 
in other words, a body full of sexual appeal, predisposes her for certain 
activities and limits the scope of her assignments. Her commanding offi- 
cers send her on missions which require constant display of sexual attrac- 
tiveness: "Secondo loro (i compagni dei GAP), dovevamo limitarci a 
mascherare la loro presenza, nei luoghi degli attacchi fingendo di essere le 
fidanzate: erano convinti che, così, avrebbero corso meno rischi" (125). 
Carla and other young women are to act as girl-friends or fiancées of par- 
tisans during preparatory stages of bomb attacks in public places or assas- 
sination plots against Nazi officials. A young couple in love, whispering 

— 73 — 



Barbara Zaczek 



love-words, embracing in a public place could pass unobserved even under 
strict Nazi surveillance. 

To project that sexual body, Carla adopts a new persona with a code- 
name, Elena, after Helen of Troy, a symbol of feminine attraction and an 
object of male desire. Her personality undergoes a dramatic change. The 
shy and unassuming Carla of the past is replaced by Elena, talkative and 
flirtatious, a talented actress. Carla's narration of that persona reflects a 
detachment, a distance, as if she were observing herself through a stranger's 
eyes: "da quando il barbiere Usiello mi aveva tinto, tagliato e arricciato i 
capelli, avevo un aspetto curato e piacevole, capace di risvegliare negli 
uomini il famoso gallismo italiano" (232). Fulfilling her commanders' 
orders, Carla quickly learns to use her body and her femininity to get out 
of compromising situations, often managing to avoid imprisonment and 
sometimes death. Her body becomes an ally in risky operations, a source 
of bravado and reassurance. 

Carla recounts in detail one such deadly encounter: during a women's 
demonstration before military barracks where the Nazis hoarded men 
caught in street round-ups to be later sent to camps of forced labor in 
Germany, Carla was caught in the middle of a fight against Nazi and fas- 
cist soldiers with a gun in one hand, anti-fascist manifestoes in another, 
and no documents. She managed to pass the gun to her co-partisan, Marisa 
Musu, and felt her slip something into her pocket, just before three mili- 
tia soldiers, kicking and beating her up brought her to a small office in the 
prison barracks. Left alone, she checked the piece of paper slipped into her 
pocket and discovered it to be an ID of a fascist group "Onore e combat- 
timento," issued in the name of Marisa Musu. Armed with a false identi- 
ty, Carla decided to play her 'attractive and innocent girl' card. When a fas- 
cist official entered the room, Carla registered his surprised reaction: "pen- 
sava di trovarsi di fronte una popolana e invece ero una ragazza vestita 
ancora decentemente" (202). Acting on an impulse of mutual attraction, 
("era un bel ragazzo, alto, magro, la divisa tenuta in ordine," 203) Carla 
made up a convincing story of being mistaken for a partisan while, as a 
good fascist, she was only trying to calm down a crowd of furious women; 
to prove her point, she fished out the party ID. Her body language com- 
municated the willingness to accept his attentions: "i nostri occhi si incon- 
trarono e capii che gli piacevo; puntai tutto su quell'impressione, lo senti- 
vo disponibile. Guardò l'orologio e d'improvviso mi disse: 'Se permette, le 
posso riconsegnare personalmente la tessera dopo il controllo, dove lei 
vuole.' 'Bene vediamoci a piazza Colonna, dove c'è la sede del partito'" 
(203). Of course, she never intended to keep her promise. 

— 74 — 



Narrating a Partisan Body 



The same episode appears in Marisa Musu's autobiography La ragazza 
di via Orazio, pubUshed in 1997, that is, three years before Capponi's. 
Musu's text, however, tells a very different story. According to Musu, Carla 
was apprehended by two fascists and taken to the fascist headquarters. 
Musu was terrified: 

Mi rendo conto che la vita di Carla non vale più un soldo, perché sarà 
subito perquisita e le troveranno la rivoltella, e penso rapidamente cosa 
posso fare. Mi ricordo che ho ancora il tesserino di 'Onore e combatti- 
mento' e lo mostro ai fascisti . . . Spingo la porta sudando freddo. Sono 
disarmata, se Carla è stata perquisita e le è stata trovata la rivokella, il solo 
fatto che stia intervenendo in suo favore basta a incriminarmi . . . Entro 
e con mio grande stupore, vedo lei tranquillamente seduta che sta fuman- 
do una sigaretta e chiacchierando con i repubblichini. 'Ah!' esclama 
quando mi vede, 'sei venuta a spiegare a questi camerati che hanno preso 
un granchio? Ma ho già chiarito tutto.' Mentre parla, tiene la borsetta 
ben stretta sotto il braccio . . . Per fortuna, sapeva del mio tesserino, per 
fortuna a tutt'e due è venuto in mente di recitare la stessa parte. (70) 

I bave quoted Musu's version not to show that we can never trust auto- 
biographies as a source of objective truth but rather to show how autobio- 
graphical texts construct the speaking T and, in Paul Eakin's words, "what 
they can teach us about the ways in which individuals in a particular cul- 
ture experience their sense of being an T" (4). Clearly both Musu and 
Capponi, while acknowledging each other's wit and courage, see them- 
selves as the exclusive protagonists of that episode, emphasizing very dif- 
ferent sides of their identity. Maria Musu focuses on her unwavering 
courage and solidarity as essential parts of her identity; "the cold sweat" is 
the outward sign of the fear she experiences, facing the possibility of tor- 
ture or death. Yet despite the fear she decides to enter the fascist head- 
quarters to save a fellow partisan. Her gender is irrelevant since it does not 
affect either her reaction to Carias predicament or her behaviour in the fas- 
cist quarters. She portrays herself as a comrade ready to risk her life for 
another partisan. 

Capponi's version, on the other hand, underlines the gendering of her 
experience because it concentrates on the skill of manipulating men 
through the use of her body. She is clearly proud of her talent to play a 
seduction game in which she exploits the common assumption that an 
attractive, middle-class girl cannot be anything else but a sexual object. Her 
apparent passivity in accepting the officer's attentions is only a mask cov- 
ering the other part of her identity, the partisan. It is interesting to trace 

— 75 — 



Barbara Zaczek 



the part played by the revolver in both accounts. Carla claims to have dis- 
posed of it before being apprehended by the fascists. Her body is com- 
pletely helpless, unable to defend itself in the face of adversity, thus all her 
power rests in her femininity. In Musu's account, Carla did not manage to 
get rid of the revolver and she had it in her purse throughout the whole 
incident. Knowing that the weapon would betray her, Carla guarded it like 
a treasure: "mentre parla, tiene la borsetta ben stretta sotto il braccio" (70). 
As in Vera's case, the weapon functions as a visual mark of power and as a 
sign of defying social prescriptions. 

And yet, despite Capponi's obvious pride in successfully playing out 
the sexual role, her text reflects an ambivalent approach towards the gen- 
dered nature of her partisan tasks. On the one hand, she recognizes the 
necessity of carrying them out and appreciates the advantages of being a 
woman; on the other, she resents her very femininity because it defines her 
as weak and passive. The passivity of a female body implies passivity as an 
inherent trait of female identity, a pliant self in a pliant body. Capponi 
fights that perception with indignation. She credits her spirit of freedom 
and personal responsibility for the decision to join the Resistance: "Imparai 
a fare le mie scelte" (62). Capponi's comment has a particular significance 
with regard to women's motivations to become partisans. Both fictional 
and non-fictional sources emphasize the relational character of women's 
involvement in the partisan movement. In other words, they tend to take 
away the freedom of choice and attribute their decisions to emotional ties: 
love for their husbands, lovers, brothers, etc.^ The female T thus lacks 
autonomy, being reduced to a reflection of the male T. 

Ironically, despite her ardent proclamations. Capponi did not manage 
to escape that classification. In her excellent historical study of women par- 
tisans. Partigiane, tutte le donne della resistenza, Marina Addis Saba exam- 
ines the participation of women in the GAP. The chapter called "Le ragazze 
dei GAP" is subtitled "Un amore a Roma." The love story refers to Carla 
Capponi and Rosario Bentivegna, who met during the war, fought against 
the Nazis, fell in love, and got married after the war. What is puzzling 
about Saba's approach to their story is the assumption that Carla's decision 
to join GAP was motivated solely by her love for Rosario: "Carla Capponi 
è entrata a fare parte dei GAP, vuole dividere sino in fondo i rischi che corre 
il suo ragazzo" (123). Saba draws her information mostly from Bentivegna's 
autobiography Achtung Banditen (published in 1983) and it is his version 
of their relationship which will become a historical truth. Interestingly, 
Carla's text refrains from telling that story; there are no outpourings of the 
heart besides very few and very short references to their attachment. Carla's 

— 76 — 



Narrating a Partisan Body 



reticence about their relationsliip seems then to imply a textual response 
and a correction of Saba's assumption. 

To discard the pervasive 'sexual fantasy' image and to assert herself as 
an agent, Carla confronts her commanders and demands to be treated as a 
real "gappista," an equal partner of her male companions. When her supe- 
riors question her physical abilities to act like a soldier, Carla bursts out: 
"Non ti fidi di me perché sono una donna?" (137) Denied a weapon, Carla 
decides to prove that she has both the physical strength and the mental 
determination and, in an act of cold-blooded daring, steals a gun from a 
fascist official on a bus full of people. From that moment, she is allowed to 
prepare and execute armed attacks on fascist and Nazi officials. After the 
attack on Via Rasella, she becomes a vice-commander of a partisan group 
in Centocelle, in the outskirts of Rome. In his autobiography, Achtimg 
Banditen, Rosario Bentivegna recalls the mythical image evoked in popu- 
lar memory of Carla, the female partisan: "Ben presto nacque a Centocelle 
la leggenda di quella giovane donna bionda che usciva la notte a sparare ai 
tedeschi" (139). Carla no longer hides the revolver in her purse, she dis- 
plays it proudly and openly. The external image of Carla's body undergoes 
a transformation, substituting a sexual object with a woman soldier. 

Capponi's text also explores the boundaries of human endurance, the 
effects of material deprivation on the sense of identity. What happens if our 
physical body, "an anchor which sustains our sense of identity" is threat- 
ened with extinction (Eakin, 11)? Fighting in the countryside near Rome, 
Capponi has to adapt to the harsh conditions of living on the margins of 
humanity, the clandestine existence which requires total isolation from her 
family, friends, party members, even news. Like a prisoner entering a death 
camp, she has to leave all the attributes of her personal life behind and 
become a body which performs orders, a body without a past or a future. 
The physical ordeal of that period takes a heavy toll: cold, hunger, lack of 
adequate clothes, personal hygiene, and sleep are constant torments of her 
existence. Her body, no longer an asset, but a weight to contend with, takes 
over the narrative "I" when hunger threatens the core of her existence: 

Dopo il secondo giorno, i crampi della fame cominciarono a tormentar- 
mi, bevevo acqua ma mi provocava dolore allo stomaco. Verso sera, 
all'avvicinarsi del coprifuoco cominciai a divenire ansiosa. Alla terza sera 
ero spaventata, non riuscivo a bere che a piccoli sorsi, sentivo freddo, mi 
assopivo e mi risvegliavo d'improvviso con la sensazione di avere le ver- 
tigini. Cercai avanzi di cibo senza trovare nulla; la pulizia perfetta di 
questa casa me la faceva odiare, eppure avevo sognato per mesi di un letto 
pulito. (264) 

— 77 — 



Barbara Zaczek 



Capponi captures here what happens to the self if the body is on the 
verge of disintegration, how one's identity (memory and consciousness) 
depends on bodily functions. Her descriptions of the days spent in the 
countryside near Rome revolve around physical discomfort and suffering. 
Her body betrays her and demands constant attention: she gets sick, 
coughs blood, and has to battle high fever. Every gesture and every simple 
action become a painful effort. She has lost so much weight that her moth- 
er and friends do not recognize her when she returns home after the liber- 
ation: "Tutt'ossi sei, figlietta mia," — exclaims her mother (305). Her body, 
like the bodies of her companions, bears testimony of the partisan experi- 
ence: "Tutti magrissimi, pallidi, qualcuno ancora con i segni delle torture 
subite, solo io avevo il volto abbronzato dal sole per i giorni passati a 
Palestrina, ma non stavo meglio di loro" (303). Carla recognizes her own 
body in the emaciated bodies of others. Gender becomes insignificant 
since "tutti" includes all the partisans, male and female. In the final image 
of the text Carla asserts her identity as a genderless partisan, erasing the 
split into an object and an agent and reconciling the two realities: "Stavo 
tornando con il fucile in spalla, la fascia tricolore al braccio" (303). 

II 

/ giorni veri 1943-45 by Giovanna Zangrandi (a literary pseudonym of 
Alma Bevilacqua) is a diary written over the period of two years: from 8 
September 1943 till the end of April 1945, but published only in 1963.'^ 
With a degree in chemistry, Zangrandi was a science teacher in the high 
school in Cortina when she heard the news, first of Italy's surrender to the 
Allied Forces, then of the creation of the Republic of Salò and the Nazi 
occupation of Italy. Zangrandi, a seasoned skier and an avid hiker, offered 
her services to the Resistance as a courier {stajfettd). Her duties included 
transporting and distributing plain clothes for Italian soldiers, deserters 
from the fascist army, smuggling weapons and explosives for partisan 
groups around Bolzano, and carrying correspondence and urgent messages 
between commanding centres of the CLN from Veneto to Piemonte. In 
her essay entitled "L'esperienza, la memoria, la scrittura delle donne," 
Marina Zancan observes that Zangrandi's diary, like other autobiographi- 
cal texts, "alludes to the experience of the body" ("un'esperienza solitaria e 
feconda di presenza e di coscienza nella storia. Lo dimostrano contenuti 
frammentari che accennano ad esperienze del corpo" 237). My reading of 
Zangrandi's text reveals more than just allusions to the experience of the 
body; it is a text which simultaneously produces and is produced through 
the experience of the body. 

— 78 — 



Narrating a Partisan Body 



Like Capponi, Zangrandi inhabits rwo bodies: the external' body, the 
image she projects for the benefit of others, changing masks and poses 
according to necessity, and the physical core she claims as her own: "il mio 
stomaco, io" (17). She carefully constructs the outer body through an array 
of disguises in order to carry out her tasks successfully. Despite her reser- 
vations about her acting skills, she plays convincingly the role of a black 
market smuggler, traveling on a train with heavy suitcases full of civilian 
clothes for deserters: "non è poi diffìcile, alla filodrammatica riuscivo male 
e mi misero fuori, ma qui non è palcoscenico di un buffo teatrino, è un 
treno vero e guarda un po' come è facile mentire, recitare, ingannare" (55). 
Her slim frame fills up with layers of nitroglicerine "nei luoghi più scarni 
del mio corpo; sono magra, piallata. Ci son venute alcune maggiorazioni 
(provvidenziale un certo regipetto vuoto che mi ha imprestato la moglie di 
un ferroviere)" (40). Impersonating a peasant woman ("viso da contadina 
sorridente" 43) who is carrying a basket of precious eggs for her ailing par- 
ents, she accepts a ride from a German soldier who takes great care not to 
break the eggs, in reality, explosive material. 

She poses as a feminine painter who crosses forests and meadows 
armed with "l'album dei disegnetti dei fiori e dei panoramini" (92). The 
diminutives she uses in her narration bring out the irony of the real pur- 
pose of her painting expedition: preparing a detailed topographical map of 
the mountain zone needed by the partisan command to plan and execute 
explosions of trains, bridges, and roads. Her knowledge of German enables 
her to play a mistress of a Wermacht official in search of medicine for her 
sick lover. The German patrol warns her: "brafa moidele attenta partisan 
non ti tagliare capelli" (140). Ingratiating smiles plastered on her face and 
an attitude of forced servility constitute an external shell which conceals a 
will to fight and to kill: "Si diventa macchine da soi ridere e uccidere" 
(155). This image of a machine capable of smiling and killing captures the 
complexity of the female partisan identity: a body which is at the same 
time a passive object and an active subject. Zangrandi replaces the mater- 
nal love with the love of hatred, growing and nourishing it inside her 
womb like her own baby: "Ci si accorge di amare quest'odio come figlio 
che cresce nell'ulva" (31). This sentence captures the essence of being a par- 
tisan woman. It subverts the rhetoric of a mother's narrative; nourishing a 
baby means protecting life while nourishing hatred means killing. 

When the fascist and the German authorities put a price on her head 
("50.000 lire, mi sento molto signorina da marito con dote", 210), a 
friendly railroad worker warns her: "Sta attenta, ti cercano . . . vedi di trave- 
stirti, cercano una dalla faccia scura, malmessa, scarpe sfondate, passo 

— 79 — 



Barbara Zaczek 



sportivo. Sta attenta, truccati" (135). Zangrandi takes his advice and trans- 
forms her appearance into a caricature of a slut: "Così stamattina con le 
forbici mi sono fatta una frangetta e rossetto e pittura, una faccia da put- 
tanella; tiro fuori un vestito pretenzioso e le scarpe con dodici centimetri 
di tacco" (135). Her clumsy attempt to turn her body into a sexual object 
brings a moment of comic relief when her fellow-partisan, Severino, 
ridicules her newly acquired femininity: "Severino dice che nella fontana ci 
sarebbe meglio la mia faccia, che mi regalerà uno specchio perché impari a 
pitturarmi, almeno figurare da tariffa migliore" (156). The lighthearted 
tone of this scene, however, leads to a painful awareness that as a woman 
partisan she is, in fact, often perceived as a slut, a female body who uses the 
war as a pretext for easy sex. 5 

In her interminable travels she encounters people who judge her. She 
notices "occhi che a volte frugano nel cuore, misurandotelo col loro metro, 
e sotto le sottane, occhi in cui senti con chi sarai andata a letto, tu puttana 
dei partigiani, dicono che siete gentaccia dal libero amore'" (142). 
Zangrandi suffers the injustice of these gazes because being a partisan for 
her means being sexless, being just a body programmed for carrying out 
orders and killing: 

Forse credono che io e Severino ci strusciamo come un uomo e una 
donna e non sanno che in questo momento siamo ambedue come senza 
sesso, solo due corpi umani che hanno muscoli per uccidere, grilletti e 
dita sui grilletti e ciò ch'era un 'cuore' o un cervello di essere civile è solo 
ora una entità inafferrabile, esasperata, selvaggia, forse più per estrema 
difesa che per vendetta. (150-151) 

Like Capponi, Zangrandi wants to be treated as an equal by her fellow 
partisans, to put aside prejudices and stereotypes concerning women and 
to establish a demo.cracy of gender: "Butta fuori un altro pezzo di foccac- 
cia nei gavettini, e parti giuste, basta con le storie che le donne non devono 
bere, fumare, bestemmiare come voi: democrazia in quelle tre gavette, 
ohe!" (189) She can hardly remember the sensation of feeling like a 
woman; it is a distant memory, similar to that of "inarrivabile infanzia," a 
memory buried under layers of masks and poses (183). Zangrandi ques- 
tions her own identity when she looks perplexed at her own photograph 
taken for a false ID: "Quella foto sono un viso magro e triste: sono io quel- 
la lì?" (202) Her doubt of her own identity corresponds to the suspicions 
voiced by her fellow partisans: is she really a resistance fighter or a spy who 
uses her femininity to penetrate the partisan ranks and then to betray 
them. Anna listens incredulously to their accusations: "Ma cosa avete pen- 

— 80 — 



Narrating a Partisan Body 



sato? Che ero io la spia che ha tradito?" (206) She feels crushed by their 
accusations, but endures calmly the interrogation which proves her inno- 
cence. A hunger pang, a bodily sensation of physical pain, evokes and at 
the same time sharpens the memory of mental suffering. She compares her 
pitiless stomach to her merciless companions: "Cucchiai di minestra fìtta e 
fredda che vanno giti, vanno in questo affamato stomaco, spietato lui pure" 
(207). 

The struggle not to lose herself in the confusion of outward roles and 
gestures echoes the bodily struggle to survive. If she can fight the enemy 
through disguises and pretences, the confrontation with nature requires 
physical strength and endurance, a body trained to fight the ferocity of the 
elements. She contrasts the idyllic image of the Alps as "strisciolina alta e 
bianca sopra le nebbie dell'orizzonte, come le vedevo da bambina, irreali e 
favolose" with the image of immense distance to be covered: "E invece 
sono vere e si deve passare di là" (222). She loves and fears nature, with a 
fear which she defines as "paura di me stessa, sola, senza esseri umani 
attorno, un 'io' che ritorna superbamente alla netta e immensa materia, . . 
. era come un terrore di farsi annebbiare, vincere, annientare dall'infinito 
della natura, di farsi prendere dalla morte" (77). Nature demands respon- 
sibility and respect, she resembles a tough and severe mother who will pun- 
ish every little mistake, but reward every effort to appease her. Zangrandi 
recounts in detail how she prepares for every expedition, how much care 
she takes to assure that she has the right equipment that she has chosen the 
right path, that she constantly watches changes in weather and snow con- 
ditions. Even the smallest slip could cost her life. Every victory of her body 
over nature fills her with happiness and exhilaration. A New Year's Eve 
spent in a mountain cave during a raging snow storm makes her appreci- 
ate yet another such victory: 

Nessun pensiero alle cose solite dei capodanni, alle feste che fa la gente; 
solo essere felici perché anche stavolta ce l'ho fatta, a infilare la casera; a 
tirar fiiori i piedi prima che gelino, a non restarci sfinita nella morte bian- 
ca. Ho cercato di metterci molto tempo a leccare quelle patate, pulire 
bucce religiosamente; sono finite. E si pensa: 'Non dormire, o ti geli, cura 
il fuoco. Lo sai che a bivaccare si deve trovare un filo di pensiero. (193) 

She coaches her body to adapt to the demands of her new life, what 
she calls "rispolverare il selvaggio ch'era in noi" (185), and proudly anno- 
tates every triumph. She learns how to control sleep ordering her body to 
wake up instantly at the slightest hint of danger: "Ho talmente abituato 
l'organismo a 'far guardia' che anche nelle sere sospette, quando decidiamo 

— 81 — 



Barbara Zaczek 



dei turni, se dormo, mi accorgo dei rumori e li identifico prima di colui 
ch'è in fazione" (185). She is confident that her face will not betray her 
feeUngs because she trained the muscles to obey her at will: "so che la mia 
faccia non segna muscolo per nessun orrore se voglio." (221) She is gratefiil 
for having a stomach which digests anything and allows her body to func- 
tion efficiently: "Questo tempo di fame ti ha fatto constatare una tua for- 
tuna, prima non ben valutata e una più grande scoperta; la fortuna di avere 
uno stomaco per cui tutto passa: polenta muffita, minestra acida, carne 
fetente di strane bestie, magari poco fresche che gli altri buttano, pasta nera 
come sabbia e avanzi sbocconcellati, pastoni, pappe e brode, tutto va giù e 
fa chilometri" (141). Kilometers, between 80 and 200 a day, to be covered 
on foot, skis, or by bike provide a test that her body has to take and to pass 
over and over again. She manages to forget exhaustion and despair when 
her body catches the rhythm of nature: "ora la neve perfetta e la discesa mi 
prendono, un'euforia mi fa cantare come allora, un motivo di valzer che 
sincronizza il mio slalom indiavolato tra i tronchi della Valdalega e poi giù 
per il canale della valle a velocità folle" (190). As in Capponi's case, the par- 
tisan experience clings unmistakingly to Zangrandi's body, betraying her 
partisan identity. A friend advises her to avoid people, thus reducing the 
risk of a possible denunciation to German authorities: "Dice che con quel- 
l'odore lì adesso, fumo di bivacco, minestra, sudore mai lavato, ecc. non 
dovrei andare per il paese" (196). Zangrandi's narrative completes a full cir- 
cle — her physical toughness, "fisico da bracconiere" (13), determines her 
partisan experience and, in turn, the partisan experience produces a new 
awareness and appreciation of her body and its ability to adapt and to sur- 
vive. 

In Deviazione Luce D'Eramo notes that "E curioso come il corpo non 
ha memoria." (285) However, as the two texts I have discussed demon- 
strate, the autobiographical reconstruction of the past takes place through 
recurring bodily memories. The physical sensations of cold, hunger, 
exhaustion, pain, etc. serve as memory props, arresting the past and pro- 
jecting it in a series of body images. To render the terror of being hunted 
down by a German soldier, Zangrandi condenses the recollection into a 
flash where "c'è solo il mio corpo vivo e impazzito di terrore" (169). That 
Constant awareness of a physical reality, however, constitutes only a part in 
the partisan experience of both Capponi and Zangrandi. It is the explo- 
ration of the gendered reality, the split of their bodies into objects and 
agents which plays a crucial part in their narratives. The two autobiogra- 
phies negotiate their way between the social constructs of women's roles 
and their determination to challenge and exceed accepted limits and 

— 82 — 



Narrating a Partisan Body 



boundaries. The poses and masks adopted by Capponi and Zangrandi, 
their outward selves, repeat the hegemonic forms of behaviour, but, as 
Judith Butler points out, repetition does not have to be faithful, and it is 
in the failure "to repeat loyally" that new bodies and new models are born 
(124). 

Clemson University 

NOTES 

Venturis story has attracted a lot of critical attention since its first edition as 
well as praise for its Hemingwayan qualities: a dry simplicity of narration, a rapid 
staccato rythm, and a surprise ending with the echo of shots. See Giovanni 
Falaschi who notes that "la costruzione dei suoi racconti obbedisce a un ritmo 
rapidissimo che riproduce il modo in cui i più giovani sentivano la Resistenza: 
come un movimento fisico di forze, violento e concitato, con brevissime pause 
seguite subito dalla ripresa degli avvenimenti. Il racconto è costruito con una ten- 
sione verso la catastrofe; ha questo valore la 'botta secca', lo sparo finale," (64). 
According to Rosario Contarino and Marcella Tedeschi, Venturi is a follower of 
Hemingway and an admirer of westerns dominated by "l'intreccio avventuroso 
sulla base dell'imprevvedibile, condizione costante della lotta partigiana," (201). 
None of the critics, however, comment on the image of a woman partisan. 

Elizabeth Grosz examines the body's object/subject status in Volatile Bodies, 
a fascinating history of the body and the self, and concludes, that "If bodies are 
objects or things they are like no others, for they are the centers of perspective, 
insight, reflection, desire, agency. Bodies are not inert; they function interactively 
and productively. They act and react. They generate what is new, surprising, 
unpredictable" (x-xi). 

•^Renata Viganò's novel, L'Agnese va a morire, deemed the official novel of the 
Italian Resistance, true to life in all its aspects, evokes a partisan in a maternal 
body. Agnese, a simple, uneducated peasant, married to an ailing but well educat- 
ed husband acts as a substitute mother first for her husband, and after his death, 
for the partisans. Agnese's body (with a hint of past sexual attraction) exists to 
serve others; it is a body which protects, nourishes, and comforts. Agnese func- 
tions only in relation to others, in fact, even her participation in the Resistance is 
motivated by an act of personal vengeance for the killing first of her husband, and 
later of her cat, by the Nazis. This relational aspect of women's participation in the 
partisan ranks, the heart as a motive for their decisions, becomes a criterion for 
reading a vast majority of autobiographical texts. Rosario Contarino and Marcella 
Tedeschi clearly wrestle with the representation of a temale partisan. On the one 
hand, they acknowledge that the war and the Resistance were historical moments 
of great importance for women: "II problema della Resistenza coincide per le 
donne partigiane con quello della loro emancipazione, . . . indicazione di un 

— 83 — 



Barbara Zaczek 



momento di rottura nel rapporto donna-società che si dilata alla coscienza politi- 
ca postresistenziale" (194). On the other hand, their critical analysis focuses main- 
ly on the relational character of these narratives, that is, they regard them as sto- 
ries of male heroes, husbands, sons, and brothers told by women; women's own 
stories seem to be of secondary importance. Thus, Barbara Allason's Memorie di 
un'antifascista is called "un'opera squisitamente femminile," (177). Marina Sereni's 
I giorni della nostra vita demonstrates "la consapevolezza di essere sposa e madre 
oltre che militante rivoluzionaria," (176). Ada Gobetti's Diario partigiano, "è un 
prodotto antieroico e antiretorico . . . trepidante di amore materno, saporosamente 
domestico," (194). This 'heart' rhetoric of literary criticism is a devious ploy 
because it supplies an interpretative filter which both obscures and distorts our 
reading of women's texts. It shifts the focus from women's own struggle to adopt 
new roles and to take on new identities to a mere repetition of traditional patterns 
and values. 

A renewed interest in Zangrani's writings led to a convention organized in 
Bologna in 1998, ten years after her death. The papers presented at that conven- 
tion were published in a book form in 2000 ( Giovanna Zangrandi: donna, scrit- 
trice, partigiana). I giorni veri w3iS reprinted in 1998 ("Le mani," Recco-Genova). 

-'The image of woman partisan as a slut appears in a number of fictional 
accounts of the Resistance, among them, in such literary classics as Italo Calvino's 
// sentiero dei nidi di ragno or "Gli inizi del partigiano Raoul," a short story by 
Beppe Fenoglio. Giglia in Calvino and Iole in Fenoglio, two bodies insatiable in 
their appetite for sex, represent a destructive force within the partisan bands, a 
force capable of threatening and ruining the solidarity and harmony of male 
bonds. 



WORKS CITED 

Allason, Barbara. Memorie di un'antifascista . Rome: Edizioni universitarie, 1946. 

Bentivegna, Rosario. Achtung Banditen . Milan: Mursia, 1983. 

Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex. 'New York: 
Roudedge, 1993. 

Calvino, Italo. Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno. Milan: Mondadori, 1999; first edition 
in 1947. 

Capponi, Carla. Con cuore di donna. L'otto settembre, via Rasella, la guerra parti- 
giana: i ricordi di una protagonista. Milan: Il Saggiatore, 2000. 

Eakin, Paul John. How Our Lives Become Stories. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 
1999. 

D'Eramo, Luce. Deviazione. Milan: Oscar Mondadori, 1979. 

Falaschi, Giovanni. La resistenza armata nella narrativa italiana. Turin: Einaudi, 
1985. 

Fenoglio, Beppe. "Gli inizi del partigiano Raoul" in Ventitré giorni di Alba. Turin: 
Einaudi 1986; first edition, 1952. 

— 84 — 



Narrating a Partisan Body 



Gobetti, Ada. Diario partigiano. Turin: Einaudi, 1956. 

. Giovanna Zangrandi: donna, scrittrice, partigiana. Ed. Werther Romani. 

Bologna: Edizioni Aspasia, 2000. 
Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington and 

Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994. 
Musu, Marisa. La ragazza di via Orazio. Milan: Mursia, 1997. 
Saba, Marina Addis. Partigiane, tutte le donne della resistenza. Milan: Mursia, 1998. 
Sereni, Marina. I giorni della nostra vita. Rome: Cultura Sociale, 1955. 
Venturi, Marcello. "La ragazza se ne va con Diavolo," pp. 201-202 in Dal Fascismo 

alla Resistenza. Letteratura Italiana Laterza. Ed. Rosario Contarino and 

Marcella Tedeschi. Bari: Laterza, 1980. 
Vigano, Renata. L'Agnese va a morire. Turin: Einuadi, 1949. 
Zancan, Marina. "L'esperienza, la memoria, la scrittura delle donne" pp. 223-237 

in Letteratura e Resistenza. Ed. Andrea Bianchini and Francesca LoUi. Bologna: 

CLUEB, 1997. 
Zangrandi, Giovanna, l giorni veri 1943-45. Milan: Mondadori, 1963. 



— 85 — 



STEFANIA LUCAMANTE 

THE 'INDISPENSABLE' LEGACY OF PRIMO LEVI: 

FROM ERALDO AFFINATI TO ROSETTA LOY BETWEEN 

HISTORY AND FICTIONi 



It is important for students of Italian literature and culture to understand 
the peculiarities of Italian Jewish literature with respect to the Shoah and 
thus to understand why contemporary Italian writers frequently interro- 
gate their immediate past.^ This article will thus examine connections 
between more 'traditional' texts (testimonies and fictions) of the Shoah dina 
contemporary Italian literary production. By contemporary,' I mean two 
kinds of works: those of writers such as Rosetta Loy who, relatively young 
at the time of racial laws, deportations, and concentration camps, have 
written about the Holocaust only in recent years and with rather different 
outcomes, and those such as Eraldo Affinati, who are the children of the 
Holocaust' because they have lived this part of history 'through' the des- 
tinies of their relatives. 

It took many years for Italian writers to gain a full understanding of 
the Jewish genocide and to construct a historiography for this "epochal 
event," as Emil Fackeneim called the Shoah (as in SuUam Calimani, I nomi 
dello sterminio, 5). A temporal lapse thus separates the first testimonies, the 
survivors' more immediate reaction to the devastation of the Shoah, and 
contemporary works on this subject. Today, awareness and knowledge of 
events call for responsibility from all members of our society, particularly 
during the wave of anti-Semitism currently spreading across Europe.^ For 
some Italian intellectuals, their role in analysing historical events pertinent 
to the Shoah while at the same time re-writing them in a fictional mode, 
has become an acknowledgment of such responsibility (Sullam Calimani, 
/ nomi dello sterminio, 3). By investigating contemporary literary and fic- 
tional works on the Shoah, 1 implicitly take a position in the long-standing 
debate on whether this tragic event should be recounted only by actual wit- 
nesses (Elie Wiesel's stand in his 77?^ Night), or whether it deserves and 
needs the contribution of fiction. As Wolfgang Iser points out, art is a 
means of human self-explanation ( The Fictive and the Imaginary, xiii), and 
as such provides a wider space for reasoning and listening to other voices. 

Quaderni d'italianistica. Volume XXIV, No, 2, 2003, 87 



Stefania Lucamante 



all the while incorporating the imaginary and the fictive to the human 
dimension provided by historical facts. In my view, fiction plays an impor- 
tant role in this debate, for it constitutes a hospitable space in which to 
remind, and constantly re-discuss, human nature and behaviour at times of 
extreme crisis. 

In this article I will investigate the ramifications of the influence and 
'indispensable' legacy of Primo Levi who appears to be the 'canonical' wit- 
ness in the works (fictional and non-fictional) of this second generation of 
Italian writers of the Holocaust. I will consider some of the questions asked 
by Dominick LaCapra in the introductory pages of his History and Memory 
After Auschwitz as to whether or not "some events present moral and rep- 
resentational issues even for groups not directly involved in them" and 
whether "those more directly involved have special responsibilities to the 
past and the way it is remembered in the present." He then wonders 
whether "art itself [has] a special responsibility with respect to traumatic 
events that remain invested with value and emotion" {History and Memory 
After Auschwitz, 1). I will analyse Italian works ranging from testimony to 
essay and to fiction. I will do this particularly for those writers, such as 
Eraldo Affinati and Rosetta Loy, confronting a traumatic event they have 
not directly experienced, but which they have worked through in their own 
imagination and investigation. 

Primo Levi and his "Indispensable " Legacy 

Primo Levi's writings reaffirm the central dialectic of Holocaust narratives 
of trauma, the "conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the 
will to proclaim them aloud." (Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 1). Levi's 
intellectual legacy is such that, without his work, it would be difficult to 
study today's writings on the Holocaust. After his initial testimonial writ- 
ings, Levi's work is based on the careful analysis of some basic categories at 
the core of Holocaust criticism, as well as at the core of works of fiction 
such as his If Not Now, When^ (1982). The categories are those of the wit- 
nesses and their role; trial; representabiliry; uniqueness of this tragedy; col- 
lective and individual moral responsibility, the "grey zone." Levi began 
defining them in 1946 in his Survival in Auschwitz {If this is a Mari) and 
would revisit them throughout his life. While others chose silence as an 
alternative and as an understandable form of denial and of rejection of fur- 
ther suffering so as to avoid the trauma of recalling their experience, Levi 
chose instead to be like Coleridge's ancient mariner, telling and retelling his 
story even when nobody would listen to him. The recurring dream, in 
which he was not being listened to, the same one Levi shared with Antelme 



The 'Indispensable' Legacy of Primo Levi 



and with so many other survivors, expressed not only the fear of not find- 
ing an audience, but also, and particularly in Levi's case, the anguish of lex- 
ical and syntactical vacuums that hinder the representation of the 'inde- 
scribable' that begs to be described, that block the utterance of the 
'unspeakable' that needs to be spoken. 

In The Drowned and the Saved {\9^G) , Levi revisited his own memoirs 
at a distance of some forty years. By then Levi had already read an impres- 
sive number of testimonies and scholarly texts, and he had revisited Buna- 
Auschwitz with other survivors, all the while contributing to the ongoing 
discussion on the Shoah. What distinguishes him from other non-fiction 
writers of the Holocaust is that Levi managed in his lifetime to re-read 
himself in successive writings, to draw theoretical statements about his own 
experience, sifted through the process of retelling. Temporal distance from 
the events re-analysed allowed for Levi's categories to become even more 
universal in his The Drowned and the Saved. The process of décantation of 
the more 'physical' memories-as we perceive in Robert Antelme's The 
Human Race, for instance— plays a key role in the readings of Levi's legacy 
to follow, particularly in this last text. The process of décantation elimi- 
nates the physicality of events and leaves space for more philosophical 
treatments. What follows is a closer examination of the witness in con- 
temporary society. 

How history is perceived today depends very much on an emerging 
notion of witness/victim and his/her role in historiographical discourse. 
Historiographical discourse and the duty of historians have been trans- 
formed, for their task now is to write history from the side of the victims, 
and not that of the victors. History as seen and witnessed by survivors con- 
structs a parallel with the kind of discourse that re-tellers of that historical 
moment narrate. Unlike in the past, victims now record and testify to his- 
tory themselves. According to Annette Wieviorka, testimony is always 
chronologically and sociologically bound to the hie et nunc of what 
remains, after all, an act of speech, a recollection of events: 

Testimony expresses, above all, what each individual, each experience of 
the Shoah, has of unique. It does so, however, with words belonging to the 
epoch in which the witness is witnessing, starting from the implicit requests 
and expectations that are themselves contemporary to this testimony. 
They ultimately attribute to the act of testimony scopes that depend on 
what is then politically or ideologically at stake. Testimony thus con- 
tributes to create one or more collective memories, erratic in their con- 
tent, in their form, in their function, and in the goals, more or less explic- 
it, that they attribute to themselves. (Wiewiorka, L'età del testimone , 14; 
emphasis added) 

— 89 — 



Stefania Lucamante 



A new form of historical discourse is thus taking shape through the act 
of witnessing and through the collective nature of witnessing. But which 
witnesses inform us about historical facts? 

Data meticulously registered in chronicles have been replaced by 
human voices. However, the "human memory" behind these voices "is a 
fallacious instrument," as Levi himself writes ( The Drowned and the Saved, 
16). These memories therefore "should also be read with a critical eye" -he 
adds— in the establishment of new ethical categories necessarily created by 
the transformation of the historiographical discourse. If memory is a "fal- 
lacious instrument," what should we trust in the transmission of these data 
to the future? It is significant to remember Levi's apology for his own fal- 
lacious memory, something of which is profoundly aware: 

This very book is drenched in memory; what's more, a distant memory. 
Thus it draws from suspect source, and must be protected against itself 
So here then: it contains more considerations than memories, lingers more 
willingly on the state of affairs such as it is now than on the retroactive 
chronicle. ( The Drowned and the Saved, 2 1 ) 

When we assume such a manifest importance for the role of the wit- 
ness, a "crucial source for history" that is not devoid of "emotional impli- 
cations," (LaCapra, History and Memory After Auschwitz, 11-12) we should 
keep in mind that even this category is subject to individual assessment and 
that the kind of importance varies depending on the different purposes of 
its use in future times.'' Is Levi thus important as an historical witness or, 
rather, as an artist who managed to make of his own work a constant lab- 
oratory of ideas on human nature and artistic expressive forms about the 
limits of representability of extreme historical events such as the 
Holocaust? 

Levi, as seen by historian Annette Wiewiorka, is a 'particular' kind of 
Jew; not at all representative of the coUectiveness that forms the Shoah. For 
her, Levi and Antelme are not emblematic of the survivors of the camp 
experience, just as much as their testimonies are not emblematic of the 
event. As an historian, in fact, Wieviorka wonders why their works are 
more studied than Adam Czerniakow's Diaries, which are certainly more 
representative of a vast majority of Eastern Jewry. Paradoxically, if the aes- 
thetic aspect of Antelme and Levi's testimonies and their aesthetic unique- 
ness make them worthy of careful study, consequent inclusion in academ- 
ic courses, and of being subject to such acclaim from a literary standpoint, 
from an historiographical point of view these qualities frustrate the work 
of the historian (Wieviorka, L'età del testimone, 38). The universality of 

— 90 — 



The 'Indispensable' Legacy of Primo Levi 



their reflections on Auschwitz and the genocide do Httle to help under- 
stand the muhitude of voices behind their testimonies. In support of 
Wiewiorka's point, I bring into the discussion another historian reader of 
Levi, Frediano Sessi. He has noted some apparent lapses that confine Levi's 
books and testimony to a literary realm. As a result, Levi's writing should 
not be considered an historical reference. Sessi does not search for mis- 
takes: he simply shows how, even in his initial pursuit of objectivity and in 
the grandiosity of his tableaux of the camp and his painful way back to 
Italy and life in general, Levi suffers from historiographical lapses in the 
retelling of life in Auschwitz. These lapses are important, for they do not 
show weakness in Levi's legacy, but rather help us understand the discrep- 
ancy between historical truth and testimonial, which in itself contains, by 
necessity, fictional elements on which Levi's artistic legacy can be based. 
Here are two examples: 

1 ) Levi claims that Auschwitz was built late and conceived from the begin- 
ning as a concentration camp. We know from Raul Hilberg that 
Auschwitz was not initially conceived as a Vernichtungslager, (extermina- 
tion camp), but as a quarantine and transit camp for Russian soldiers and 
Polish resistance fighters, and that only gradually, in 1942, in a way that 
Sessi calls "the graduality of horror," it was turned into an extermination 
camp; 

2) Diaries found near the gas chambers contradict Levi, in that at least six 
people have been able to narrate their own death, even using their own 
blood as ink (Sessi, "La letteratura concentrazionaria, " 21). 
Still, Sessi never undermines Levi's reflections on the "graduality of 
truth," as he does not think of the writer as an historian. What emerges 
from Levi's writings about the unwitnessed remains valid, along with the 
aesthetic and epistemological value of his work. This holds true even 
though from an historical point of view, imprecision needs to be revisit- 
ed (Sessi, "La letteratura concentrazionaria," 22), if only as survivals of 
Levi's own "fallacious instrument" called memory. 

Sessi offers three reasons why The Drowned and the Saved 2iX.ic.sts to the 
importance of fiction as a mode to investigate the past. These three reasons 
are drawn directly from the lack of a connection between the deportee and 
the historian and the actuality of events, as "not even the sense of the event 
is automatically suggested to us by the recount of a witness." (Sessi, "La let- 
teratura concentrazionaria," 22-23) Levi's The Droivned and the Saved 
leaves open the debate on an ethical and aesthetic revisiting of the 
Holocaust; Levi's coming to terms with the fact that the 'heart' of the camp 
experience is in fact an event without testimonies, as the real witnesses are 

— 91 — 



Stefania Lucamante 



the Muselmànner, thus making "fictional texts (novels and stories) the place 
from where one can have the drowned speak"; and one more possibility as 
the novelist touches upon topics and advances reflections and judgments, 
whereas the historian cannot, unless has documents": the voice of the wit- 
ness per conto terzi ("through somebody else"; Sessi, "La letteratura con- 
centrazionaria," 27). These reasons find their evidence in the work of 
Eraldo Affinati and Rosetta Loy. 

Levi's Legacy: Eraldo Affinati and his Role as Intellectual 

Eraldo Affinati s Campo del sangue exemplifies a new type of testimony, the 
composition of a Holocaust of 'invention,' which 'finds' a memory for events 
not personally witnessed. Written in 1997, more than fifty years afirer 
Auschwitz, Affinati's autobiographical work is unusual in its composite 
aggregation of personal material combined with passages from other texts. 
Campo del sangue is a personal narrative of a trip Affinati took from Venice 
to Auschwitz in 1995, interrupted by excerpts from texts written by Levi, 
Antelme, Semprun, and from other witnesses and scholars of the Holocaust. 
As is frequent in contemporary writings on the Holocaust, this is a hybrid 
text, not a novel, nor a travelogue, nor an essay. It defies generic definition, 
for this is a book whose hybridity attests to the difficulty of dealing with per- 
sonal events while linking them to public ones. The purpose behind this 
book manifests the intensity by which the action of thinking about an his- 
torical and private trauma— one seen as collective— brings it constantly back to 
life in artists who feel their role in society to be one in which ethical duties 
toward themselves, their readers, and the past, are mandatory. 

However we categorize his book. Affinati feels he belongs to a "second 
generation" of Holocaust survivors {Campo del sangue, 9). The "children of 
the Holocaust" are, in a way, the aesthetic agents of this "post-apocalypse" 
period, responsible for keeping alive the memory of such an apocalyptic 
event not only in life, but also in art. Holocaust recollection is constantly 
studied as a means to overcome the original mistake of "unbelievability" that 
did not allow the public to prepare itself for the tragic events that were to fol- 
low, as well as a way to come to terms with these events, an heroic act of 
working through that often requires the use of invention in order to link the 
fragments left hanging loose by the voices of the previous generation. 
Antelme writes: "'Unimaginable' is a word that doesn't divide, doesn't 
restrict. The most convenient word. When you walk around with this word 
as your shield, this word for emptiness, your step becomes better assured, 
more resolute, your conscience pulls itself together" ( The Human Race, 290). 

Like Affinati, these latter writers have not "witnessed," but they bear 
witness to the Holocaust, nevertheless. They show art's commitment to 

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The 'Indispensable' Legacy of Primo Levi 



imagining what is not imaginable in real life. They reject the comfort of 
the unimaginable' word, and pursue instead new venues of discourse to 
'imagine'. 

Second-generation Holocaust Writers 

An initial division in Holocaust writers was clearly defined by Norma 
Rosen's categories (in Touching Evik see also Berger, "Ashes and Hope," 93- 
95). Briefly summarized, they comprise the literature written by witnesses 
themselves and that produced by "witnesses through imagination," as Alan 
Berger points out ("Ashes and Hope," 98). In his study. Berger claims that 
in Rosen's second category there has been a gross misuse of this historical 
event, seen merely as background for fiction, as in the oft-cited case of 
William Styron Sophies Choice.'^ He adds a third category, the one formed 
by the children of the Holocaust who write about the impact of this trag- 
ic event on their parents. There are two orientations: a specific Judaic quest 
and a more universal message about improving society at large (Berger, 
"Ashes and Hope," 99). 

Berger's third category of such witnesses, defined as "children of the 
Holocaust," is not entirely appropriate for Affinati's case. Even if one of the 
most triggering instances of his book was that in 1944 his mother was 
"almost" deported to a concentration camp and his grandfather executed 
for partisan activities, the fact remains that the Italian writer is not Jewish, 
thus he fails to have the biographical tie with survivors in the most specif- 
ic sense of the term. We also cannot compare Affinati's case to that of 
Binjamin Wilkomirski's "fraud" in Fragments-,'^ he is not assuming any false 
identity in order to write a testimonial of an experience that did not belong 
to him directly, nor is he fabricating stories he did not live. 

What we have is an interesting case of a teacher, a traditional kind of 
intellectual according to Gramsci, who has determined to contribute to 
society with his work. "Non bisognerebbe mai separare il pensiero dal- 
l'azione" ("one should never separate thought from action") Affinati states: 

Questa tentata spaccatura è, io credo, il tarlo dell'epoca moderna: il 
mondo senza testa e la testa senza mondo. Affermando il primato della 
coscienza sulla realtà l'artista novecentesco ha di fatto dato campo libero 
all'uomo d'azione, lo ha lasciato andare al proprio destino. Nel nazismo 
si riverbera tale abbandono. ( Campo del sangue, 8 1 ) 
(This attempted split is, I believe, the gnawing of modern times: the 
world without head and the head without world. By affirming the pri- 
macy of consciousness upon reality, the twentieth century artist has 
indeed given free rein to the man of action, has let him go to his own 
destiny. Such abandonment reverberates in Nazism.) 
— 93 — 



Stefania Lucamante 



Affinati declares his debt and gratitude to Primo Levi for how Levi 
"helped him not to share the attitude of those who think they can stay free 
in front of the word they chose ( "Primo Levi," 57). Affinati states further: 

Se il linguaggio non è un mero strumento di comunicazione, ma piut- 
tosto il luogo dei nostri pensieri, il centro stesso dell'orientamento vitale, 
il colore della visione a cui siamo legati, allora risulta impossibile chia- 
marsi fuori rispetto al fuoco dialettico che si determina ogni volta che 
scriviamo o parliamo: dobbiamo necessariamente prendere posizione, o 
modificarla, se le conseguenze di ciò che abbiamo detto ci spingono a 
farlo. ("Primo Levi," 57) 

(Il language is not a mere instrument of communication, but rather the 
locus ot our thoughts, the very centre of the vital orientation, the colour 
of the vision we believe in, it then seems impossible to declare ourselves 
outside the dialectical focus which takes place every time we write or 
speak: we must necessarily take a stand, or modify it, if the consequences 
of that which we have said lead us to do so.) 

The totalitarian systems of the twentieth-century fed precisely on the 
intellectual who would work apart from society. 

When Affinati speaks about "the responsibility of the word," he refers 
to the "constant attention" that an individual must pay to the "chemical 
combination that, along with the cultural education, determines our per- 
sonality. "7 

L'opera letteraria, così intesa, come un boomerang che torna a interrog- 
arlo, diventa uno specchio retroattivo, la voce della sua coscienza, la 
prova del nove per misurare la legittimità di certe intuizioni, una sorta di 
banca-dati che va aggiornata per essere tenuta in vita nell'orizzonte delle 
future attese. ("Primo Levi," 59) 

(When conceived as a boomerang returning to question the author, the 
literary work becomes a retroactive mirror, the voice of his/her con- 
sciousness, the definite trial to weigh the legitimacy of his intuitions, a 
type of data bank which needs updating to be kept alive in the horizon 
of future expectations.) 

In his writing, the private sphere, exemplified by his mother's escape 
from forced deportation to the concentration camps and by his own grand- 
father's execution, entwines almost seamlessly with the public role of scrit- 
tura, a role that he feels the letterato, the uomo di lettere should retain and 
be faithful to, at any cost, both as a writer and as a teacher in front of stu- 
dents. As Affinati writes, prior to his physical departure on this trip, he 
engaged in a series of readings on this topic. An individual obsession, 
linked to the private sphere of his existence, initially triggered Affinati's 
writing of this autobiographical/ literary re-creation of his own journey to 

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The 'Indispensable' Legacy of Primo Levi 



Auschwitz, where his reading littérature concentrationnaire came finally 'to 
make sense,' an occasion for acting out experiences he never lived. He 
writes, "gli uomini sono capaci di mettere a fi-utto ogni cosa: forse io, come 
figlio, rappresento una risposta al pericolo che mia madre introiettò quel 
giorno." [Campo del sangue, 23; "human beings are capable of putting to 
interest any thing; perhaps, as a her son, I did represent a response to the 
danger my mother introjected that day.") Such individual, private obses- 
sion could become useful to all of us who still do not feel the reason for a 
collective, enduring, and tragic responsibility for the Shoah. 

Al centro di tale percorso conoscitivo c'è, credo la composizione di 
Campo del sangue [...]. Il modo in cui è nato quel testo corrisponde pien- 
amente alla mia idea di letteratura, oggi. Erano anni che leggevo docu- 
menti narrativi e saggistici relativi ai campi di concentramento nazisti e 
sovietici. [...]. A un certo punto mi sono chiesto la ragione di questa 
ossessione conoscitiva: ho capito che riguardava non solo la mia persona, 
come figlio di una donna che era riuscita a fuggire, cinquant'anni prima, 
da un treno che la stava conducendo ai lager, e come nipote di un uomo 
fucilato dai nazisti in quanto partigiano. Le riflessioni che, di giorno in 
giorno, andavo facendo riguardavano ogni essere umano perché quello 
che accadde nei campi di concentramento, nella sua estremità, chiama in 
causa la natura stessa dell'uomo. E allora ho voluto compiere un'azione 
fìsica, appunto il viaggio, per rendere conto e rendermi conto di ciò che 
credevo di aver capito. (Affinati, "Primo Levi," 61) 
(At the centre of such learning process lies, I believe, the composition of 
Campo del sangue [...] The way in which that text was born fully corre- 
sponds to my idea of literature today. For years I was reading narratives 
and essays relative to Nazi and soviet concentration camps [...] At a cer- 
tain point, I asked myself what was the reason behind my obsession for 
knowledge: I realized that not only regarded me as a person, as the son 
of a woman who managed to escape, fifty years ago, from a train going 
to the lager, and as a grandchild of a man shot by the Nazis because he 
was a partisan. The reflections which, day by day, I formed, concerned 
every human being because what happened in the concentration camps, 
in its extreme, questions the very nature of man. And so I wanted to 
accomplish a physical act, the journey, that is, to render and to realize an 
accounting of what I thought I had previously understood.) 

Eraldo Afifinati's relativizing approach to the painful theme of concen- 
tration camps, 8 the intellectual and collective responsibility that we all 
should share regarding the Shoah, attempts to re-conceive an image of the 
intellectual at the service of society, an individual who, through his own 
experience, believes himself to be of value to society in reassessing events of 
his family's past-the private ones with which he deals everyday, even 

— 95 — 



Stefania Lucamante 



unconseiously-that have a necessary reason to be reconnected to the recent 
history of a country, a race, or a reHgion. The issue of consciousness, aside 
from the idea of collective trauma, is at the centre of Affmati's voyage au 
rebours, an actual journey he took to Auschwitz: 

Non posso comunque evitare di ripercorrere le tracce di chi mi ha prece- 
duto: ho già deciso di assumerle in pieno, come se dovessi viaggiare nella 
matrice delle testimonianze, in un calco memoriale, diventando il model- 
lo teorico del deportato. {Campo del sangue, 13) 

(I cannot help but to travel over the path which was left: by those who 
came before me: I have already decided to assimilated them in fiill, as if 
I should travel in the matrix of the testimonies, in a memorial impres- 
sion, thus becoming the theoretical model of the deportee.) 

He himself, the 'intellectual' becomes the theoretical model of the 
deportee, "II modello teorico del deportato" or a virtual Hdfiling, one of 
those colourless, almost unanimated creatures of Nazi propaganda, as Levi 
wrote in Se questo è un uomo, awkwardly translated in English as Survival 
in Auschwitz. If it is true, as Edward Said stated in a famous article, that 
"intellectual representations are the activity itself" {Representations of the 
Intellectual, 20), then, by reconstructing the "theoretical model of the 
deportee" Affinati tries to represent what his thinking process of elabora- 
tion corresponds to. The activity of elaborating the model, his attempt to 
visualize graphically, through letters, excerpts of other books, through his 
own private experience the 'product' of his intellectual activity, is touching 
evidence of his belief in the role of the intellectual in society, particularly 
in light of Primo Levi's legacy. As Affinati notes. Primo Levi made him 
"realize that a writer is someone who also and especially takes responsibil- 
ity for those who cannot" ("Primo Levi," 61). Finally, Affinati warns about 
the danger of the lack of collective responsibility: 

L'intero meccanismo che ha reso possibile lo sterminio del ventesimo 
secolo è basato sulla cancellazione della responsabilità: ogni uomo, nella 
Germania nazista, si sentiva giustificato, non direttamente punibile. In 
tale modo l'autorità morale viene resa inoperante senza essere sfidata o 
negata {Campo del sangue 39). 

(The entire mechanism that has made this extermination of the twenti- 
eth century is based upon the elision of responsibilirv^; each individual in 
Nazi Germany felt justified, not directly punishable. In this way, moral 
authority is not challenged nor denied and becomes non-operative.) 

By attacking the functionalist theory by which Germans, educated in 
the Prussian system, simply had to 'follow orders,' Affinati renews the vow 
for an individual who, by assuming responsibility, impedes society from 

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The 'Indispensable' Legacy of Primo Levi 



not admitting a more universal one. Intellectuals more than others, 
Affinati claims, should take up the challenges of moral questioning. 
Commitment and awareness that literature is engagement is the true creed 
of Eraldo Affinati. Unlike many of his colleagues, orphans of absent polit- 
ical beliefs and role models, Affinati has never stopped his writing of 
engagement in favour of a literary production that could exploit the many 
postmodernist ways of rarefying meaning in order to re-construct, rather 
than deconstruct reality with words, faithful to Adorno's invocation in his 
Negative Dialectics to reconsider metaphysics after such reality took place. 
Affinati's work could be seen as a sort of paradoxically 'positive' Derridian 
dissemination, one which, instead of making meaning uncertain, in 
which — to cite LaCapra, "theory [...] displaces history in favour of its 
putative conditions of possibility", can actually re-enforce meaning by 
working through the vectorial connections between the word and the sig- 
nified, and not "simply cc[thx2iX.c(i'\Representing the Holocaust, 98-99). 
Affinati's writings, from Veglia alle armi to Campo del sangue and Un teol- 
ogo contro Hitler, are a statement of ethical duty on behalf of the writer to 
the service of society. 

Rosetta Ley 

The link between Affinati and Rosetta Loy's literary engagement is the lack 
of collective responsibility that Levi so vigorously warned against in his 
writings. Loy writes incessantly about this absence in Italian society. She 
denounces her own indifference and that of Italians in those years in which 
everybody should have spoken against racial laws, against the unfairness by 
which neighbours-the Levi family for instance-were deprived of work and 
means, but particularly of their identity only because they were Jewish: 

There is a black border around those guiltless days of ours. [...] How to 
imagine the monstrous sense of isolation they [the Levis] must have felt 
in the grip of the SS and their orders, which, within twenty minutes, 
eliminated them from the human race?" {First Words, 162) 

Just like Affinati, Loy also is not a camp survivor, but she, too, consid- 
ers herself a Holocaust survivor. Loy's unbearable legacy is that of a Christian 
who suffers for the silence of her fellow Christians, of an Italian who realizes 
that fellow Italians allowed their neighbours to be deported to camps. 
Members of a society that, until the day before, had accepted them and had 
considered them to be part of their same world, as Loy or her sisters were. 
They were sent, instead, to extermination camps never to come back. 

And on the evening of October 16, the student this writer once was, 
recites the rosary, sighing with boredom as she does every evening, let- 
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Stefania Lucamante 



ting her eyelids droop amid the singsong of the Hail Mary and Our Fathers. 
She does not give the slightest thought to supplicating her God, who after 
all is also the God of the Levis and the Delia Setas, to send the avenging 
angel down to help them. She feels no impulse to scream, to do something 
for that boy with the cheerful face who used to ring their bell [...]. On that 
night of October 16, the thoughts of that girl who was no longer little [...] 
aren't much different from usual, focussed mainly on the notes she 
exchanges, by way of an elaborate system of pulleys and strings, with the 
Calcagno girls, who live in the apartment nearby. {First Words 163-64) 

Loy's description of her day on 16 October 1943 is certainly excruci- 
ating for the cruelty with which today the writer records her nonchalant 
existence and her inability to supplicate "her God" to save her neighbours 
Delia Seta, or the boy Giorgio with his beautiful bicycle. Loy's First Words 
aptly combines autobiographical, fictional, and reportage genres in a 
hybridized form of narration that brings the reader back to Loy's childhood 
while understanding the ethical and cognitive intent of her book, ks aim, 
in fact, is to shed light on the Italians' responsibility toward the victims of 
the Holocaust, as well as to highlight their failure to resist the implemen- 
tation of the 1938 Racial Laws. Loy's objective in her writing is a constant 
admonition to Christians to become aware of their complicity and moral 
responsibility in the annihilation of Jews during the Second World War. 
Not only the controversial First Words {La parola ebreo), but also her novel 
Cioccolata da Hanselmann and the more overtly autobiographical La porta 
dell'acqua are Loy's most convincing works, in that they retrospectively 
describe this historical period while connecting them to Loy's private life 
as a privileged Christian Italian child. 

Using all hues and shades of narrative, from autobiography to fiction, 
Loy pursues the search for the moral and ethical duty of her fellow Italians. 
Virtually every one of Loy's books refers to the indifference of Christian 
Italians towards the Shoah, but they also reflect the underlying notion of a 
private trauma which the author seeks to work through in her writings. 

On the jacket sleeve of First Words, we read: "Loy reveals one writer's 
struggle to reconcile her memories of a happy childhood with her adult 
knowledge that, hidden from her young eyes, one of the world's most hor- 
rifying tragedies was unfolding." Perhaps the editor and publisher needed 
this stark contrast to present (and sell) the book, but, in fact, if we read 
Loy's overtly autobiographical La porta dell'acqua carefully, we realize that 
her childhood was not happy by any stretch of the imagination. It was 
secure and safe; it was wealthy, with vacations in the mountains and at the 
beach, but certainly not happy. A sense of loneliness denominates Loy's 

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The 'Indispensable' Legacy of Primo Levi 



autobiographical writings on her childhood. In a way, it would impossible 
to read La parola ebreo {First Words) without considering the importance of 
Loy's unresolved childhood trauma, more visible in Laporta dell'acqua. For 
Loy, this trauma stems from the repressed unspoken diversity in a world 
rigidly divided by those who were Jewish and those who were not. It all 
begins in that world which her Tyrolese governess, Annemarie, blindly 
accepts, in Loy's little nursery where Annemarie tells her stories of 
Paulenchen. There, the little girl who will later become a writer, learns to 
juxtapose her own security against the world of the other little friend. 
Regina, whose life is marked forever by the star of David on her chest. Not 
a happy childhood at all then, but marked by the awareness of a profound 
fracture in her society, marred by the indifference of the nice people' 
toward the tragedy that was unfolding. In the period of Loy's reminiscence, 
two religions, which in Rome had co-habited peacefully, find themselves in 
First Words to represent a particularly difficult issue: the assimilation that 
allowed Jews not to understand that the first racial laws were implement- 
ed to define their "racial difference. " How could two families living in the 
same building have a different destiny, merely because one was Christian, 
the other Jewish? "How could this happen?" is a question that often res- 
onates in Italian fictions of the Holocaust from Giorgio Bassani's The 
Garden of the Finzi-Contini on. There is no temporal barrier between past 
and present. The personal story of the little girl is revealed through the 
gashes left open by the oppressing historical events of World War Two. It 
is an on-going past, as in Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu. In a reply 
to Sergio Romano's then recently published book. Lettera a un amico ebreo. 
Rosetta Loy harshly criticizes her friend for trying too hard to break with 
stereotypes about Jews and for dismissing the unresolved issue of the Shoah 
as "counterproductive. " Romano's hypothesis, that "the Shoah has become 
a permanent blackmail for Westerners" is rejected by Loy as she contends 
that a very basic distinction needs here to be made between Israel's politi- 
cal use of the genocide (particularly within its borders in order to justify 
anti-Arab paranoia) and the silence and indifference, which Levi feared the 
most, that have instead enveloped the issue in Europe, where the genocide 
took place. Loy states. 

Like everybody else, Europe proclaimed its innocence, imputing the 
genocide only to the defunct Nazi ideology. Except for Germany, on 
whom every responsibility has fallen and who is the only one who could 
revenge a screening of its own behaviour. What does it mean that the 
Jewish genocide is 'encumbering'. Encumbering for whom? (Loy, "Caro, 
permaloso amico," 52) 

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Stefania Lucamante 



According to Loy, a series of questions has long remained unanswered, 
because they have never been posed to those few who profited from the per- 
secution of Jews in Italy and Europe. Posing these questions has become a 
"tumor inside the body of Europe," Loy maintains. The recurring rational- 
ization that dismisses this issue ("the historical context of Auschwitz no 
longer exists") is not in her view an answer , but a mere excuse. "The histo- 
ry of every genocide is connected with the locals where it took place. One 
does not erase the other; and the closer it is (to us) in a cultural and physi- 
cal sense, the stronger, the more inevitable, the more traumatic, our involve- 
ment will be" ("Caro, permaloso amico," 53). In contrast to Romano's the- 
ories of archiving the encumbering holocaust, Loy recognizes the Jewish 
people's "right to justice," the collective character of this particular type of 
responsibility. Loy's analysis also involves the stereotyping of Jews and their 
attitude that, according to some, should never be one of reaction and 
aggression. Loy completely rejects such a stereotype in her fiction. In the 
novel Cioccolata da Hanselmann, Loy presents the case of a Jewish professor, 
Arturo, who kills Eddie, the young man who is going to the Swiss police to 
denounce him. The stereotype of the Jews' necessary submission to events 
is for Loy morally wrong, and fiction-and this novel's underlying goal 
which is remote from the story of the sisters-is to present such moral issues 
to the reader, the necessity finally to break with stereotypes. 

A further fundamental question Loy poses in First Words regards the 
mysterious encyclical Humani generis unitas which Pius XI commissioned 
from John La Farge, the author of Interracial Justice (1938) (Loy, First 
Words ^\). In a letter to L'Indice, Guido Fink takes up Loy's challenge and 
wonders whether, "quell'enciclica avrebbe potuto davvero cambiare la sorte 
di milioni di ebrei" ("that encyclical could really have changed the fate of 
millions of Jews"; Fink, La parola ebreo, 5). It is important to remember, 
however, that "Passelecq and Suchecky frantically searched for that 
Encyclique Cachée, which the future Pope Pius XII claimed disappeared, 
though at a latter date he used some of its passages on the sufferings of the 
Polish clergy, while censoring everything regarding Jews and Nazism. It is 
in this sense that, perhaps, this book deserves to be recommended and not 
only to those who 'know little'" (Fink, La parola ebreo, 5). 

According to Fink, what Loy as an adult contests in non-fascist and 
non-racist Italians is their not having posed the same questions she cannot 
ignore today. "Brucia dirlo" "It hurts to say it" {First Words, 135)-this sim- 
ple phrase has became significant for all those who are Christians and live 
with the moral consequences of the racial laws, deportation, guilt, and 
shame for what their relatives did not do. 

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The 'Indispensable' Legacy of Primo Lent 



Conclusion 

The peculiarities of the 'alternate route' I have followed in order to claim 
canonicity for Primo Levi's writings surface in the light of what has often 
been said to be the ultimate social, historical, and personal need for such a 
corpus of writings: never to forget what happened to others and to learn 
from our own past by means of art. 'Fiction is not necessarily a synonym 
for 'novel,' and 'testimony' is not necessarily a substitute for historical 
research and authenticity. Every instrument can be a 'fallacious instru- 
ment,' but it can also be used with the best intentions to create artistic 
works and foster consciousness in readers. 

In Cees Noteboom's novel All Souls Day, a character speaks about con- 
temporary indifference for events memorialized in history: 

we're no longer touched by the plight of others; they simply wound up 
on the wrong page of the history book ... because we know, even when 
it's happening, that's history — we're experts at that ... Amazing, isn't it, 
history in the making, and we don't want to have anything to do with 
that either ... Arno, what did that stupid Hegel of yours say? 'The days 
of peace are blank pages in the book of history,' or something to this 
effect ... Well, we are those white pages now, and they're truly blank, 
because we're not there. (89) 

Whether or not we consider the Jewish Holocaust unique, it leads us 
to review a "past that is far from inert, in the sense that we rediscover it, 
having forgotten or repressed too much" (Hartman, The Fateful Question 
of Culture, 101). It is our moral duty today to resist the danger of consid- 
ering times of peace to be "blank pages," in which there is no place for us 
because we do not want to remember nor to consider the past, times in 
which nothing seems to change simply because no wars are weighing down 
on the fate of Italians. But they do on others, always. Through Primo Levi's 
legacy, Eraldo Affinati and Rosetta Loy provide us with artistic examples of 
how to come to terms with historical facts and intellectual pursuits during 
a period of relative peace (that is, for Italians). These 'children of the 
Holocaust' by imagination — or vocation — are, in a way, the aesthetic 
agents of this 'post-apocalypse.' They feel the responsibility of keeping alive 
in art, and not merely in life, the memory of such an apocalyptic event. 
These writers have not witnessed, but they bear witness to the Holocaust, 
for art constantly commits itself to imagine what is not imaginable in real 
life. By making space in their writing for these issues, their pages are no 
longer 'blank,' but filled with the perpetual quest of intellectuals for a 
world that rediscovers humanit)' through culture without antagonizing 
these two terms. Theirs is thus a form of engagement which makes it pos- 

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Stefania Lucamante 



sible stili to believe in the ethical duty of intellectuals and in the necessity 
of art to try to "say what cannot be said." Far from representing violations 
of the facts of history while juxtaposing a subject to them, as Berel Lang 
maintains ("The Representation of Limits," 312), the work of Loy and 
Affinati only reaffirm that particular link between Italian Gentiles and 
Jews, one that has made the development of our contemporary literature 
virtually unique. Levi's legacy resides in his reaffirmation of a link that was 
severed, but that we must now reconnect by whatever artistic means possi- 
ble. Imaginative representation therefore, has a profoundly important task 
in uniting, rather than dividing, future generations. The specificity of artis- 
tic, vis-à-vis historical facts, should reside in the creation of speaking sub- 
jects who can, in their aesthetic endeavour, reach out and expose (linguis- 
tically or visually) areas where blank pages should have no reason to exist. 

The Catholic University of America 
Washington, DC 

NOTES 

M would like to thank my colleagues Lisa Gitelman and Julian Nelson for 
their careful reading ol this study. I would especially thank Guido and Daniela 
Fink for their warm encouragement to continue my work in the direction outlined 
in this study. Unless otherwise noted all translations are mine. 

^The biblical term Shoah, "a sudden disaster, individual or collective," was 
used for the first time in Palestine in 1938. As Anna- Vera SuUam Calimani writes, 
in Palestine, poets and writers used the term afterwards, in 1942, on the occasion 
of a symposium on Jews in occupied Europe (/ nomi dello sterminio, 19). After the 
war, it became the most commonly used term in Israel. Many contradictory opin- 
ions in merit to which term would be adopted, Holocaust, Shoah, genocide, make 
evident the oft-mentioned linguistic vacuum when facing an unseen phenomenon 
-^It is useful to look on the web to realize how many sites deal with the pre- 
vailing anti-Semitic feelings spreading in Europe today. Aside from the classic 
sources (i.e. Pierre Birnbaum's Antisemitism in France), magazines such as Vanity 
Fair are publishing disturbing investigations and articles on this matter (see 
Brenner, "France's Scarlet Letter"). The Center Simon Wiesenthal is preparing an 
official report on anti-Semitism in France and also collects signatures to protest 
with the French government for its failure at regarding the more than 200 inci- 
dents happened in France from 2000 on as more than "hooligans' acts" 
(www.wiesenthal.com) . 

"just as history should not be conflated with testimony, so agency may have 
to go beyond witnessing to take up more comprehensive modes of political and 
social practice" (LaCapra, History and Memory After Auschwitz, 12). For an exten- 
sive treatment of this matter, see also Felman and Laub's Testimony 

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The 'Indispensable' Legacy of Primo Levi 



^For an interesting discussion oi Styron's case, see Vice, Holocaust Fiction. 

"See Bernard-Donals for an extended treatment of Wilkomirski's work, which 
he considers "a powerful testimony to events that are unavailable to those who 
were not there and that are available as open wounds to those who were" ("Beyond 
the Question of Authenticity, " 1303). 

'^Affinati, "Primo Levi," 58. Fie also specifies the danger of utilizing memory, 
of the risk of turning it into a data bank to use when necessary. It this were true. 
Affinati claims, it would become an interior alibi. 

°I am still referring to Said's rendition of Lyotard's theories on the postmod- 
ern intellectual {Representations of the Intellectual, 18), more prone to express 
his/her competence in the local than in the universal, thus refusing to engage in 
any debate on moral, ethical, in short, larger classes of value. We could also recall 
Guattari's notion of "bankruptcy of the idea of progress and modernity" that has 
ruined any positive idea about social action {A Thousand Plateaus, x), as well as the 
Derridean notion that, since our understanding is largely relative, all truth is con- 
sequently relative, and the rejection of metanarratives or universalistic constructs 
of any type is only a corollary of such notion. 

WORKS CITED 

Affinati, Eraldo. Campo del sangue. Milan: Mondadori, 1997. 

. "Primo Levi: La responsabilità della parola" pp. 52-67 in Primo Levi: // 

mestiere di raccontare, il dovere di ricordare. Atti del convegno Trento, 14 maggio 

1997. Ed. Ada Neiger. Trent: Metauro, 1998. 
Antelme, Robert. The Human Race. Trans. Jeffrie Haight and Annie Mahler. 

Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1998. 
Berger, Alan L. "Ashes and Hope: The Holocaust in Second Generation American 

Literature" pp. 97-116 in Reflections of the Holocaust in Art and Literature. 

Braham Randolph, ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990. 
Bernard-Donals, Michael. "Beyond the Question of Authenticity: Witness and 

Testimony in the Fragments Controversy." PMLA 116.5 (2001): 1302-1315. 
Birnbaum, Pierre. Anti-Semitism in France: A Political History from Leon Blum to 

the Present. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1992. 
Brenner, Marie. "France's Scarlet Letter." Vanity Fair {]\int 2003): 106-128. 
Czerniakow, Adam. The Warsaw Diaries of Adam Czerniakoiv. Ed. Raul Hilberg, 

Stanislaw Staron, Josef Kermisz. Trans. Stanislaw Staron and staff of Yed 

Vashem. New York: Stein and Day, 1974. 
Felman, Shoshana and Dori Laub. Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, 

Psychoanalysis, and History. New York: Routledge, 1992. 
Fink. Guido. "La parola ebreo". Lettere. LIndice (October 1997): 5. 
Guattari, Félix and Gilles Deleuze. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and 

Schizophrenia. London: Athlone Press, 1988. 
Hartman, Geoffiey. The Fateful Question of Culture. New York: Columbia 

University Press, 1997. 

— 103 — 



Stefania Lucamante 



Herman, Judith. Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence. From Domestic 

Abuse to Political Terror. New York: Basic Books, 1997. 
Iser, Wolfgang. The Fictive and the Imaginary: Charting Literary Anthropology. 

Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1993. 
LaCapra, Dominick. History and Memory After Auschwitz. Ithaca and London: 

Cornell University Press, 1998. 
. Representing the Holocaust: History, Theory, Trauma. Ithaca and London: 

Cornell University Press, 1994. 
Lang, Berel. "The Representation of Limits" pp. 300-317 in Probing the Limits of 

Representation: Nazism and the "Final Solution. " Ed. Saul Friedlander. 

Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992. 
Levi, Primo. The Drowned and the Saved. Trans. Raymond Rosenthal. London: 

Abacus, 1989. 
Loy, Rosetta. La parola ebreo. Turin: Einaudi, 1997. 
First Words: A Childhood in Fascist Italy. Trans. Gregory Conti. New 

York: Holt, 2000. 

. Cioccolata da Hanselmann. Milan: Rizzoli, 1995. 

"Ca.To, permaloso amico." Diario (24 Dec. -6 Jan. 1998): 52-53. 

La porta dell'acqua. Milan: Rizzoli, 2000. 



Noteboom, Cees. All Saint Day. Trans. Susan Massotty. New York: Harcourt, 2001. 
Prima Levi: II mestiere di raccontare, il dovere di ricordare. Atti del convegno Trento, 

14 maggio 1997. Ed. Ada Neiger. Trent: Metauro, 1998. 
Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the "Final Solution." Ed. Saul 

Friedlander. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992. 
Rosen, Norma. Touching Evil Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990. 
Said, Edward. Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reicht Lectures. New 

York: Pantheon Books, 1994. 
Sessi, Frediano. "La letteratura concentrazionaria tra verità e finzione a partire da 

Primo Levi" pp. 17-30 in Primo Levi: Il mestiere di raccontare, il dovere di ricor- 
dare. Atti del convegno Trento, 14 maggio 1997. Ed. Ada Neiger. Trento: 

Metauro, 1998. 
Sullam Calimani, Anna- Vera. / nomi dello sterminio. Turin: Einaudi, 2002. 
Vice, Sue. Holocaust Fiction: From William Styron to Binjamin Wilkomi^ski. New 

York: Roudedge, 2000. 
Wiesel, Elie. The Night. Trilogy. Trans. Stella Rodway. New York: Hill and Wang, 

2000. 
Wiewiorka, Annette. L'età del testimone. Milan: Raffaello Cortina, 1999. (Orig.: 

L'Ere du témoin, Paris: Ploin, 1998). 
Wilkomirski, Binjamin. Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood. Trans. Carol 

Brown Janeway. New York: Shocken Books, 1996. 



104 



RECENSIONI 

Burrow, J. A. Gestures and Looks in Medieval Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge 
University Press, 2002. xi, 200 pp. US.$ 55 ISBN 0-521-81564-9 

J. A. Burrow's book on the representation of non-verbal communication in 
medieval English, French, and Italian literature is an important interdisciplinary 
contribution to our understanding of medieval culture. Burrow deploys a sub- 
stantial (though presumably lay) understanding of recent discoveries from the dis- 
ciplines of biology, sociology, and psychology about the ways human beings in var- 
ious cultures communicate. He brings that understanding to bear on the details of 
medieval narratives, linking communication theories and medieval studies in 
novel ways. This combination will be helpful to scholars of^ all of the medieval 
European literatures, for it provides a guide to specific kinds of non-verbal com- 
munication while also establishing the groundwork for further investigation of 
textual representation of non-verbal communication. 

Throughout, Burrow wisely narrows his focus to signs made to convey a spe- 
cific meaning — those, that is, with "voluntas significandi," as Burrow terms it, fol- 
lowing Augustine in De Doctrina Christiana. This still leaves him with a wide 
range of gestures and looks to discuss — from arms akimbo to looking askance, 
pointing, and smiling, to name only a few of the fifty or so signs listed in the 
index. In his first three chapters Burrow seeks to decode medieval references to 
these signs. Basing his interpretation on modern understanding of non-verbal 
communication and careful philological investigation, he explains how medieval 
readers might have pictured the gestures and looks they found described in writ- 
ing and how they might have interpreted their meanings. 

Burrow reminds his readers that our already culturally-determined modern 
understanding of such signs may differ still again from medieval understandings, 
but he nevertheless presents a compelling case that his readings of medieval signs 
are historically justified. His work is also complicated by the breadth of linguistic 
evidence he considers; again. Burrows convinces me that he has the details correct. 
Both the risk of anachronism and the complexity of lexicon firmly justify Burrow's 
book, for without studies such as this we are probably all too facile in our reading 
of medieval descriptions of non-verbal communication. 

Burrow seems most comfortable with English lexicon; most of his work has 
been in late medieval English literature, and his training in that field is apparent 
throughout. Nevertheless, he is obviously a proficient reader of French and Italian 
texts, and he makes frequent enough reference to terms and texts in these lan- 
guages that specialists will have little trouble generalizing Burrow's points and dis- 
covering further similarities and differences between English and continental ges- 
tures and looks, beyond those he has already sniffed out. 

The book's final two chapters offer readings of specific texts. First, Burrow 
considers Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde — which he reads against its source, 
Boccaccio's // Filostrato — and the anonymous Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 

Quaderni dualianistica. Volume XXIV, No, 2, 2003, 105 



Recensioni 



His reading of Troilus and Filostrato is particularly welcome because it brings out 
the ways Chaucer adapted the text by adding and altering the gestures and looks 
described in it. The reading of Sir Gawain is equally adept and especially helpful 
in decoding the complexities of the non-verbal communication between Gawain 
and Bertilak and his wife; further discussion of the possibility that Gawain's rela- 
tionship with Bertilak is to be understood as homoerotic in its gestures (a reading 
Burrow dismisses too quickly) would have been helpful. 

Then, Burrow applies his methodology to the Commedia Divina. He discov- 
ers in the poem an unexpectedly rich variety of gestures and looks; in some of the 
encounters with the shades, he argues, the description of such non-verbal signs pro- 
vides the bulk of the poem's meaning. Burrow also shows how Dante has used his 
technical knowledge of such signs, probably acquired from such scholastic treatises 
as the De Modis Significandi of Martin of Dacia, within the tight and compressed 
diction of the Commedia. Specifically, Burrow shows how the description of these 
signs sheds light on Dante's relationship with both Virgil and Beatrice. More gen- 
erally. Burrow argues, the poem explores the ways that non-verbal communication 
facilitates or enhances human communication and the ability of visual and textual 
artists to depict such signs. Burrow's discussion of the "visible speech" in Purgatorio 
X is particularly revealing of the poet's negotiation of such matters. 

Burrow's book will prove to be of lasting value in helping modern interpreters 
of these works and many others understand some of their finest points and those 
most open to anachronistic misinterpretation. Burrow also extends the range of 
interdisciplinary readings of the Middle Ages and reminds us how illuminating it 
can be to use the physical and social sciences to understand medieval literature. 

STEPHEN POWELL 

University ofGuelph 

Azzetta, Luca. Ordinamenti, provvisioni e riformagioni del Comune di Firenze 
volgarizzati da Andrea Lancia (1355-1357). Venezia: Istituto Veneto di Scienze, 
Lettere ed Arti, 2001 (Memorie. Classe di Scienze Morali, Lettere ed Arti, 
XCDC). Pp. IX, 310. 

Il titolo forse non è ingannevole, perché la parte più consistente del volume, da 
pagina 127 a pagina 252, è effettivamente occupata dall'edizione dei testi volga- 
rizzati dal famoso notaio fiorentino; tuttavia è un titolo che probabilmente non 
invoglia il comune studioso di letteratura italiana, il quale potrebbe credere di 
trovarsi di fronte a un'opera per specialisti, o addirittura per iper-specialisti di sto- 
ria del diritto o di storia delle istituzioni politiche o eventualmente di volgarizza- 
menti trecenteschi. Beninteso, c'è anche questo; anzi, se si guarda al numero delle 
pagine, questo è l'elemento senza confronto preponderante: perché all'edizione 
vera e propria dei testi occorre aggiungere il glossario (253-268) e gli indici degli 
antroponimi (269-270) e dei toponimi (270-310: l'esorbitante differenza di 
ampiezza mostra che in scritture di questo tipo le località — città, paesi, quartieri, 
pievi — sono molto più significative delle persone che vi abitano); ma bisogna 

— 106 — 



Recensioni 



aggiungere anche la descrizione del manoscritto da cui si pubblica — Firenze, 
Archivio di Stato, Statuti del Comune di Firenze, 33 — già Classe II. Dist. I. Num. 
15. Stanza II. Armad. I — (50-59) e le preziose Note linguistiche (60-1 14), oltre ai 
Criteri di edizione (123-125; le intermedie 115-1 17 e 1 18-121, come si ricorderà 
ancora in seguito, sono dedicate rispettivamente ai nomi di persona e ai mano- 
scritti e documenti d'archivio citati nell'introduzione). E si tratta di una parte che 
non può lasciare indifferente neppure lo studioso di letteratura italiana, dal 
momento che protagonista della vicenda è un volgarizzatore come Andrea Lancia, 
fortemente indiziato — e secondo molti non con indizi abbiamo che fare, ma con 
prove indubbie — di essere l'autore del cosiddetto Ottimo commento della Com- 
media dantesca; ma l'italianista non può restare insensibile nemmeno al fatto in sé, 
all'operazione per cui, a metà del Trecento, fu deciso di dare una versione anche 
volgare delle norme che regolavano la convivenza civile. I motivi erano essenzial- 
mente due: da un lato l'esigenza di fare capire bene i provvedimenti adottati, anche 
a coloro che ormai erano classe pressoché dirigente ma non possedevano l'istru- 
zione necessaria neppure per capire il latino notarile in cui le leggi erano redatte; 
dall'altro lato l'opportunità di eliminare, con la redazione in volgare, la giustifi- 
cazione più ovvia e diffusa, appunto l'ignoranza del latino, per scusare le inadem- 
pienze. Va da sé che un testo trecentesco di questo tipo offre una grande varietà di 
lessico specialistico per materie che spesso interessano i testi letterari, e l'esempio 
più ovs'io riguarda il capitolo sulle leggi suntuarie, particolarmente significative in 
anni di poco successivi alla grande peste, di cui riproduco l'inizio, compresa l'in- 
troduzione (181-182: tutti i termini interessati trovano nel glossario una illustra- 
zione adeguata): 

XXIJ. Ordinamenti contro alli soperchi ornamenti delle donne e soperchie spese 
de' moglazzi e de' morti. 

Infrascritti sono li ordinamenti e provisioni fatti per Schiatta Ridolfi e per 
li compagni, honorevoli cittadini di Firençe e diputati per esso Comune a fare 
provisioni e ordinamenti per ripriemere e a ripriemere e punire coloro che per 
inanzi commetteranno homicidii o fedite nella cittade o nel contado di Firençe, 
et a ripriemere e regolare le soperchie spese de' cittadini dintorno alli vestimenti 
e adornamenti delle donne, fanciulle e femine, e moglazzi, nozze, conviti e sepul- 
ture e altre cose come di sotto per ordine si contiene, l'anno del Signore mccclvj, 
per vigore del loro oficio e della balia, auttoritade e podestade a-lloro data per li 
consigli opportuni dei popolo e del Comune di Firençe; scritta per ser Piero di 
ser Grifo, notaio e scrivano delle dette riformagioni. 

Cominciano. 

In prima che neuna femina, maritata o fanciulla, di qualunque conditione 
sia, possa o ardisca o presumisca portare per la cittade di Firenze, in casa o fuori 
di casa, vestimento alcuno di sciamilo che sia indorato o inarientato, né vesti- 
mento d'alcuno drappo, excetto che di sempice seta. Et per simile modo nulla 
femina delle predette possa o ardisca di portare, in casa o fuori di casa nella cit- 
tade di Firenze, vestimento alcuno o cappuccio o cappellina in che o sopra o nella 
quale sia oro o ariento o pietra pretiosa o perla o nacchera o alcuna raccamatura 
o figura d'alcuno animale o vaio o ermellino o coniglo o frangia. Né alcuna delle 
predette femine o fanciulla ardisca di portare alcuno capuccio aguazeronato o 

— 107 — 



Recensioni 



intaglato, né alcuna robba o vestimento nastrato o fregiato, o in sul quale o nel 
quale sia oro o ariento o perle o pietre pretiose o alcuna figura altra ismaltata, o 
con ismalto o con nacchera o altra cosa. 

Una rapida scorsa al glossario per 'sciamito' ('stoffa di lusso di seta pesante'), 'nac- 
chera' ('madreperla'), 'aguazeronato' ('ornato di guazeroni', ossia di 'gheroni'), ma 
anche per 'moglazzi' ('stipulazione di contratto matrimoniale') mostra quanto sia 
giovevole questo volgarizzamento anche per termini che ricorrono con frequenza 
per esempio nella novellistica e nei poemi cavallereschi: anche perché novelle e 
cantari spesso non si capiscono appieno, se non vengono posti in relazione, anche 
per quanto riguarda l'abbigliamento, con le norme vigenti nelle diverse città^ 

Tuttavia, se innegabilmente importante è il volgarizzamento in sé, il comune 
studioso di letteratura italiana sarà grato al curatore. Luca Azzetta, soprattutto per 
le pagine introduttive, da cui la figura di Andrea Lancia emerge — attraverso l'uso 
sagace dei documenti noti, il reperimento di altri e il ricorso, per campi di ricerca 
svariati, alla bibliografìa più aggiornata — con un rilievo che non è solo dovuto alla 
sua attività di volgarizzatore, ma anche al lungo studio sull'opera di Dante e alle 
relazioni frequenti e solide — anche se purtroppo solo in parte ricostruibili, allo 
stato attuale — con protagonisti di primo piano della cultura fiorentina. 

Degli argomenti trattati nell'introduzione, Azzetta si è già occupato con lavori 
precedenti, riguardanti i volgarizzamenti di Livio e soprattutto la biografia del 
Lancia (Per la biografia di Andrea Lancia, Italia medioevale e umanistica [39 
(1996): 121-170]; qui ai vecchi contributi si aggiungono altri riscontri, che con- 
sentono di tracciare il quadro oggi più completo possibile dell'avventura umana e 
letteraria di un personaggio certamente minore, ma che ha intrecciato la sua attivi- 
tà con stelle di prima grandezza: e basterà ricordare, accanto a Dante vecchio, il 
maturo Boccaccio. 

Non si conosce la data di nascita del Lancia: tuttavia, poiché egli era figlio di 
notaio e i figli o fratelli di notai per poter essere ammessi al notariato dovevano 
avere compiuto i diciott'anni, la data 3 giugno 1315 del più antico documento 
rogato dal Lancia oggi noto ci assicura che egli non può essere venuto al mondo 
dopo il 3 giugno del 1297 — "e non si dovrà retrocedere di molto", commenta 
Azzetta a p. 10 — ^ jvi^ per ^oi è più significativo arrivare alle notizie certe 
riguardanti gli interessi letterari; e sono notizie nuove e importanti. Si deve ad 
Azzetta, infatti, la scoperta che il manoscritto C III 25 della Biblioteca Comunale 
di Siena, contenente un volgarizzamento "parziale e fortemente compendiato" di 
Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium, è autografo del Lancia: non solo, ma che del Lancia 
è anche il volgarizzamento, che si trova dunque ad aprire la serie dei lavori letterari 
del notaio fiorentino. L'autografia poteva essere riconosciuta solo da chi da anni 
lavora sulle carte del Lancia; ma è da sottolineare che, se ovviamente il fatto che un 
manoscritto sia autografo di qualcuno non dimostra che il copista ne sia anche 
autore, qui l'attribuzione è sicura. Converrà indugiare sulla questione, citando 
direttamente le parole dello studioso, che mi sarebbe impossibile riassumere (13): 

Le caratteristiche esterne di questo codice, che non pare abbia avuto alcuna cir- 
colazione, lo qualificano subito come destinato a un uso strettamente privato: 

— 108 — 



Recensioni 



acefalo, adespoto e anepigrafo, il testo è privo di rubriche e titoli correnti, né vi 
sono indicazioni che segnino il passaggio tra un'epistola e l'altra. Allo stesso modo 
il volgarizzamento presenta tutti i caratteri della provvisorietà e le incompiutezze 
proprie di una copia di lavoro: numerose infatti sono le cancellature, continue le 
correzioni, gli spazi lasciati in bianco, con le parole latine non tradotte poste ora in 
margine ora nel corpo del testo; anche le integrazioni, marginali e in interlinea, 
spesso si giustappongono senza sostituire precedenti scelte lessicali, così da dar vita 
a doppie o triple possibilità di traduzione per uno stesso termine; frequente inoltre 
è l'impiego da parte del Lancia di un ductus con tratteggio sottile, forse eseguito a 
dorso di penna, che indica i luoghi sui quali sarebbe dovuto tornare. 

Se questo era un volgarizzamento per uso personale, ben diversa è la situa- 
zione della prova successiva — successiva, nel senso che sia stata la prima compo- 
sta in seguito, almeno per quello che oggi possiamo dire — e cioè la traduzione del 
compendio àcW Eneide approntato da frate Anastasio. Si cita questo episodio, del 
resto già ben noto, perché è il primo che colloca il Lancia in mezzo ad altri let- 
terati: il volgarizzamento, infatti, utilizzò la versione completa di Ciampolo degli 
Ugurgieri, ma a sua volta venne utilizzato da Giovanni Villani nella sua Cronica 
(ed è importante notare che il Villani, che scriveva nel 1322, fornisce la sola data 
sicura, almeno come termine ante quem, per il lavoro del notaio). Infine, quest'- 
opera giovanile, con la ripresa di Purg. II 81, fornisce forse la prima prova di un 
culto dantesco che il notaio probabilmente aveva maturato da tempo. 

Non è possibile presentare tappa dopo tappa la biografìa che Azzetta offre del 
Lancia, attraverso un viaggio ad Avignone, una seconda missione nella città papale 
sul Rodano interrotta bruscamente dalla detenzione — e dalla tortura — ancor 
prima ch'egli potesse lasciare la Toscana, le ambascerie, le cariche ricoperte a 
Firenze, le relazioni con altri volgarizzatori — come il fiorentino Zucchero 
Bencivenni e il pratese Arrigo Semintendi — , e con letterati minori — come 
Antonio Pucci, ma, a un grado senza paragone più elevato, Zanobi da Strada, 
Francesco Nelli, Lapo da Castiglionchio — o massimi — come Giovanni 
Boccaccio — ; a proposito di Boccaccio, tuttavia, è doveroso sottolineare che 
Azzetta segnala due nuovi documenti, dal primo dei quali risulta la fortissima 
probabilità di una collaborazione dei due in ambito politico-amministrativo, dal 
secondo la certezza che tale collaborazione ha effettivamente avuto luogo. Alle pp. 
33-34, infatti, prima si esibiscono documenti che mostrano la presenza di 
Boccaccio "nei Consigli del Comune di Firenze nei giorni 17 e 28 gennaio e 23 
febbraio" 1351, quando il Lancia era consigliere, poi si porta alla luce un altro doc- 
umento dal quale risulta che Boccaccio era ufficiale della gabella del pane quando 
del medesimo ufficio era notaio appunto il Lancia. La vicinanza intellettuale dei 
due, documentata fin qui in molti modi — tra l'altro anche, in epoca alta, attra- 
verso la presenza nel Filocolo di prelievi dal volgarizzamento àdX Eneide compen- 
diata — trova per questa via, difficile e accidentata, della ricerca d'archivio, il con- 
forto di dati concreti e verificabili. 

Naturalmente la vicinanza di Boccaccio e di Lancia propone con forza la 
questione antica del dantismo del Lancia e in particolare della possibilità, cui già 
si accennava all'inizio, che il Lancia sia l'autore àdX Ottimo commento. 



109 



Recensioni 



Sulla questione, apparentemente, T^zzetta non prende posizione. Nella n. 19 
di p. 16 egli si limita a scrivere: 

Si tratta comunque di una questione che dovrà essere riconsiderata, anche alla luce 
dei nuovi dati sulla biografìa e sull'attività del Lancia; tuttavia, poiché il profilo che 
si delinea del notaio fiorentino non è aiïatto in contraddizione con quello dell'au- 
tore dell'Ottimo, nelle pagine che seguono e fino a prova contraria l'ipotesi di iden- 
tificazione del Lancia con l'Ottimo commentatore sarà ritenuta credibile. 

In realtà Azzetta mostra di accettare tale identificazione, magari "fino a prova con- 
traria": ma si capisce che la prova in contrario è da lui ritenuta sommamente 
improbabile. Alla p. 36, infatti, a proposito della possibilità che il Lancia abbia 
favorito il culto dantesco del Boccaccio, lo studioso non esita a osservare: "Nel 
Lancia, dunque, ottimo commentatore...", dove la qualifica, sia pure con la minu- 
scola, di "ottimo commentatore" è piti esplicita di quello che ogni sostenitore del- 
l'identificazione si aspetterebbe. Ma non meno chiaro è il senso di ciò che segue: 

Nel Lancia, dunque, ottimo commentatore. Boccaccio ritrovava elementi per lui 
cari e preziosi: la familiarità con Dante, conosciuto e consultato personalmente... 

Non serve continuare, perché l'allusione è a due dei passi più celebri delY Ottimo 
commento, quelli relativi a Inf.y,. 87 e XIII 144, qui riferiti alla p. 20, che quasi ci 
si vergogna, in una presentazione rapida come la presente, a citare ancora una 
volta: "io scrittore udii dire a Dante che mai rima noi trasse a dire altro che quel- 
lo ch'avea in suo proponimento; ma ch'elli molte e spesse volte facea li vocaboli 
dire nelle sue rime altro che quello ch'erano appo gli altri dicitori usati di 
sprimere"; "elli fu di Firenze, e però qui recita una falsa opinione, che ebbero gli 
antichi di quella cittade, la quale io scrittore domandandoneliele, udii così rac- 
contare". Insomma, l'identificazione del Lancia con l'Ottimo non è esplicita, ma 
neppure è da mettere in dubbio. Ed essa viene confermata indirettamente dalla cir- 
costanza rilevata a p. 39: che il ms. Cologny-Genève, Bodmer 132, appartenuto al 
Lancia, contiene tra l'altro anche le due epistole di Pier della Vigna utilizzate 
dall'Ottimo nel suo commento a Inf.^W 64-72. 

Occorrerebbe a questo punto accennare in modo non cursorio alla questione 
dei manoscritti della Commedia copiati in tutto o in parte dal Lancia (soprattutto 
36-38, con rinvi! alla bibliografìa precedente): ma l'argomento, per la sua tecnici- 
tà, esigerebbe altro spazio e soprattutto altre competenze da quelle dell'estensore 
di questa nota: il quale dunque volentieri rinvia il lettore alle pagine di Azzetta per 
un'informazione su una materia che presenta, anch'essa novità di rilievo e che con- 
sente di vedere all'opera, una volta ancora, notai come Andrea Lancia intorno al 
poema dantesco. 

Dati i caratteri che qui si è cercato di delineare, e la piccola folla di personag- 
gi grandi e piccoli e di manoscritti e documenti citati nell'introduzione, appare 
provvidenziale la decisione dell'autore di separare in modo netto i problemi trat- 
tati nella presentazione della figura del Lancia da quelli che emergono dal volga- 
rizzamento; tale separazione è resa evidente dalla circostanza che gli indici dei 
nomi e dei manoscritti citati nell'introduzione si trovano alla fine dell'intro- 

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duzione stessa. In questo modo si semplifica e si razionalizza la materia, tenendo 
ben distinti i personaggi che compaiono negli Ordinamenti, nelle Provvisioni e 
nelle Riformagioni da quelli, che al comune studioso di letteratura italiana interes- 
sano certo di più, che ci vengono presentati nella biografia. 

Luca Azzetta annuncia, come si è accennato, ulteriori sviluppi delle indagini 
su temi particolari che nelle pagine introduttive a questo volume ha potuto solo 
accennare o che non sono ancora arrivate a un punto di maturazione sufficiente 
per un'esposizione in sede scientifica; l'auspicio è che anche i nuovi contributi si 
mantengano al livello di questo volume. 

EDOARDO FUMAGALLI 

Università di Friburgo (Svizzera) 

NOTE 

^Naturalmente si tratta di testi già studiati: "Legge suntuaria fatta dal Comune di Firenze 
Tanno 1355 e volgarizzata nel 1356 da Andrea Lancia", pubblicata da P. Fanfani. L'Etruria 
1 (1851): 366-382 e 429-443; A. Rossi, "I nomi delle vesti in Toscana durante il 
Medioevo". Studi di lessicografia italiana 1 1 ( 1 99 1 ) : 5- 1 23. Si è scelto questo esempio non 
per la novità, ma per l'importanza dell'oggetto. 

Lo studioso obbliga spesso il lettore a un esercizio di ricomposizione e interpretazione dei 
dati: nel caso della data di nascita, per esempio, non svolge il sillogismo, ma scrive: "Nato 
nell'ultimo decennio del sec. XIII {terminus ante quem è il 1297, e non si dovrà retro- 
cedere di molto), Andrea di ser Lancia, o Lance, come si firma abitualmente in latino e in 
volgare, compare attivo come notaio a partire dal 1315: il primo documento con data 
certa da lui rogato che sia sopravvissuto è costituito dall'atto di vendita ASFi — cioè 
Archivio di Stato di Firenze — Diplomatico, Cestello, 3 giugno 1315" e solo in nota 
aggiunge l'elemento essenziale dell'età minima richiesta a un figlio o fi'atello di notaio per 
accedere ali professione (10-11 en. 5). Si tratta di un piccolo neo, largamente compen- 
sato da una scrittura precisa ma aperta e piana, diventata oggi rara, purtroppo, tra gli stu- 
diosi di queste discipline. 

Petrarch, Francesco. On Religious Leisure. Ed. and trans, by Susan S. Shearer, 
intro. by Ronald G. Witt. New York: Italica Press, 2002. Pp. xxv, 168 US.$15 
ISBN 0-934977-11-9 

This is the first English translation of Petrarch's De odo religioso, an exordium to 
the life of religious leisure and contemplation which offers the reader a fresh view 
into the spiritual world of fourteenth-century humanism. Composed some time 
during Lent 1347 (11 February to 29 March), Petrarch continued to add to the 
text as late as 1356 before dispatching the final treatise to his brother, Gherardo, 
in 1357. In his introduction to the translation, Ronald Witt outlines the chang- 
ing attitudes towards 'otiurn (leisure) from pagan to medieval times in order to 
contextualize Petrarch's treatise on religious leisure. As in his De vita solitaria 
(1346), Petrarch sought to legitimate his manner of life by envisioning the otium 
practised in Vaucluse as continuous with the otium first identified with the monas- 
tic life by Augustine. Witt writes: "[Petrarch] seems to have felt compelled to set 

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pagan otium, which envisioned the Hfe of retirement as a means of reaching moral 
perfection, within a Christian context where it became the way of salvation" ( xiv). 
In De otio, Petrarch contrasts pagan and Christian cultures, aiming to affirm the 
absolute condemnation of the pagans, regardless of the virtues they possessed, 
because of the incapacity of pagan learning "to contribute to moral reformation 
intrinsic to the salvific process" (xvii). 

The treatise begins by praising the life of religious leisure, for only in religious 
leisure is the soul most receptive to God's word (3-12). After providing an exten- 
sive series of biblical quotations designed to furnish guidance and comfort to 
Christians (15-19), Petrarch launches into the body of the work. This he formal- 
ly divides into three parts according to the three major enemies of the soul, 
demons (24-78), the world (81-91), and the flesh (94-112). Given that these 
sources of sin are so interconnected, however, there is much overlap between these 
three parts. The remainder of the work is devoted to a comparison of ancient 
pagan religion with Christianity (115-148). 

Understandably the De otio religioso, with its all-embracing condemnation of 
the life in the world and a glorification of withdrawal from it, was not popular 
with later humanists. As well, stylistically, Petrarch's Latin is less classical than most 
of his other works. It is no wonder, then, as Witt points out, that the treatise has 
aroused little interest on the part of scholars. There is still no critical edition of it. 
The present translation is based on the edition by Giuseppe Rotondi (Vatican 
City, 1958). Susan S. Schearer has produced a very good translation of the text 
into modern English, the result of eight years of work. Petrarch's treatise, divided 
into two books, has now been further subdivided into chapters by the translator. 
Schearer's translation. On Religious Leisure, along with Witt's introduction, which 
provides the historical context to the treatise, will be an excellent resource for 
scholars and, as her stated aim, will help "amplify our understanding of Petrarch's 
humanism." The translation comes at a welcome time as 2004 marks the 700th 
anniversary of Petrarch's birth. 

MILTON KOOISTRA 
Centre for Medieval Studies 
University of Toronto 

Ariosto Today. Contemporary Perspectives. Eds. Donald Beecher, Massimo 
Ciavolella, Roberto Fedi. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto 
Press, 2003. xi, 237 pp. ISBN: 0-8020-2967-1 (cloth). $50 Can. 

This collection of essays provides critical approaches to Ariosto's Orlando Furioso 
and careful analyses of his lyrics and comedies. Eleven scholars put the Orlando 
Furioso in dialogue with Ariosto's other texts and works by modern and contem- 
porary authors. The contributors consider the Furioso against the backdrop of the 
cultural and political milieu of the Este court, where Ariosto worked most of his 
adult life, and the humanistic and classical literary tradition in which his produc- 
tion was deeply steeped. The arrangement of essays seems to imitate the cinemat- 
ic techniques of panning and tracking, which, according to Monica Farnetti, one 

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of the scholars featured in the collection, Ariosto "foreshadowed " in the Orlando 
Furioso. While some studies offer a panoramic view of Ariosto's opus and its rela- 
tion to the cultural and historical period, others provide close-up shots of partic- 
ular texts and their intertextual allusions to the contemporary literary tradition. 

Dennis Looney analyzes the influence Guarino Veronese's educational system 
on the "humanistic culture of the period" and more specifically on Ariosto (22). 
Ariosto "uses the classics and classical rhetoric to criticize the culture of the classi- 
cists" (24); this "idiosyncratic use of the classics", which Looney has termed else- 
where as "compromising," is the by-product of what the critic Albert Ascoli describes 
as an "implicit critique Ariosto makes of humanist education." (19). For Looney, 
"compromising" serves to place the literary model to which Ariosto alludes in a new 
perspective and to emphasize the importance of a literary source among the others, 
only to downsize the privilege of such source in the course of the narrative. 

Antonio Franceschetti investigates the nature of the dialogue between the 
Orlando Furioso and Boiardo's Orlando Innamorato. Boiardo's poem is Ariosto's 
principal model and the source "from which the spiritual world of the Furioso, 
consciously or unconsciously, was derived" (36). Franceschetti points out that 
Ariosto's development and imitation of certain episodes in Boiardo leads to a rad- 
ical change of tone, which loses its fantastic dimension and becomes more ratio- 
nal. Furthermore, Ariosto's characters are shaped by the contingent situation in 
which they find themselves. Love, in Boiardo the main agent of Orlando's heroic 
deeds in pursuit of Angelica, becomes a destructive element in Ariosto. 
Franceschetti attributes this metamorphosis to the historical and political period 
that made Ariosto increasingly pessimistic and realistic. 

Alberto Casadei focuses on the structural and linguistic changes Ariosto made 
in the three editions of the Orlando Furioso, in connection to the chivalric genre and 
the addition of the Cinque Canti. While Ariosto demonstrated his preference for the 
Tuscan dialect in the 1516 edition (which became more evident in 1521 and 1532), 
in the last edition, he shed the comic and ironic dimensions and geared the work 
toward a more classical form which reflects his move toward a "more 'national and 
'imperial' view" of his poem. This change does not make the 1532 edition com- 
pletely different from the others; yet it highlights the historical and cultural change 
that Ferrara and the rest of Italy went through between the first and last edition. 

Giorgio Masi analyzes Ariosto's production in relation to his position as a sea- 
soned courtier and employee of the Estes. With its cultural milieu, the court of 
Ferrara constituted Ariosto's stimulus, inspiration and privileged audience. If Ariosto 
never accepted "his role as one 'familiar' to the court ahead ol that of the poet" (86), 
he kept his independence of judgment within the limits imposed by the literary gen- 
res he chose to use and the social and cultural rules he decided to respect. 

In her concise contribution Monica Ferretti emphasizes the importance of the 
geographical landscape in Orlando Furioso and of the symbolic relationship 
Ariosto established between space and character. Daniel Javitch calls attention to 
the fictionality of the Orlando Furioso. He points to Ariosto's elaboration of tradi- 
tional elements of the chivalric genre, such as invoking the authority of the ficti- 
tious Turpin or exploiting the convention of suspending the narrative action at the 

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beginning of each canto, which emphasize the fictionality of the text. The narra- 
tors comments within cantos interrupt the story and underhne Ariosto's total con- 
trol over the characters' fictional stories; they also induce the reader to experience 
through the surrogate of literature "the frustration of desires and expectations" suf- 
fered by the characters. Ultimately, the declared fictionality of the text and its 
intertextual nature discourages the reader from appropriating the values and ideals 
of the text into real life. The fickle nature of the characters underlines the unreli- 
ability ol "timeless models of virtue or vice". 

Elissa Weaver's well-ioiown essay is translated here for the first time in 
English. Through a close study of three stories of love madness that Ariosto inter- 
laced through the traditional technique of entrelecement (Orlando's, Rodomonte's 
and Bradamante's), Weaver argues that madness is the product of the power of 
word and literature. For, the narration of stories that drive the three characters to 
madness can be repeated indefinitely through its retelling. 

Roberto Fedi, who has written extensively on the Rime, analyzes Ariosto's lyric 
poetry that he composed, revised and expanded from 1493 to 1525 in relation to 
the Petrarchan canzoniere, its themes and structure, and the genre's elaborations 
made by Ferrara's court poetry in the fifteenth century and by Bembo in the six- 
teenth century. Working within the limits of the genre, Ariosto's endless work in 
progress on his Rime testifies to both the author's attempt to shape his lyrics 
according to new poetic standards and his constant reworking of "his poetic begin- 
nings" (169). Bianchi offers a concise overview of Ariosto's comedies staged 
between 1508 and 1528, from the Cassaria to Lena. Bianchi traces his progressive 
detachment from the Latin models of Plautus and Terence in his first comedies 
and detects a new style in Lena, which is 'other' vis-à-vis the classical model (187). 
Bianchi suggests that through comedy Ariosto showed uneasiness in keeping up 
with his original goal of entertaining, offering a more pessimistic and realistic view 
of the society in which he lived. 

The last two essays deal with the metamorphosis of the Orlando Furioso and 
its structure into Luca Ronconi's theatrical production and the integration of its 
narratives and structural mechanisms in Calvino's style. Sandro Bernardi describes 
and comments on Luca Ronconi's theatrical staging of Ariosto's poem in 1969 and 
its later filmic rendition. Ronconi's direction emphasizes the text's narrative open- 
ness, which led him to represent fragments of the poem because "one part stands 
for the entire work" (197). For Lucia Re, both Calvino and VVriosto transform their 
condition of belatedness into a playful "principle of originality" (227). Re explains 
Calvino's reading of Ariosto and Ariosto's deep influence on the author's work 
through his use of the opposing narrative tools of avventura, a search for search's 
sake, and inchiesta, a search that acquires meaning through its goal. This opposi- 
tion is well known to scholars of Orlando Furioso. 

Ariosto Today. Contemporary Perspectives is a great tool for any scholar seeking 
a panoramic view of original approaches to Ariosto's opus and for college profes- 
sors wanting to expose students to a view of Ariosto that goes beyond the Orlando 
Furioso to his so-called minor works. 

MONICA CALABRITTO 
Hunter College, NY 

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Gallucci, Margaret A. Benvenuto Cellini. Sexuality, MasculÌ7iity, and Artistic 
Identity in Renaissance Italy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. ISBN 
1403961077. xvi, 214 Pp. 

Margaret Gallucci's study of Cellini's poetics and the sexual politics of his self-cre- 
ation through poetry, autobiography, letter-writing and through his art at last per- 
mits an English audience to appreciate fully the importance of his role in creating 
himself as a paradigm of the new masculinity that emerged in the Italian sixteenth 
century. In part, Gallucci has provided us with a good example of a type of schol- 
arly investigation which I like to call the bibliographic biography. Investigations of 
men through the books they read and the books they created remind me of 
Giuseppe Arcimboldo's famous Librarian (c. 1 566) a painting of a man who is 
made up entirely of books. The analogy is appropriate in Cellini's case, since he is 
probably more widely known through his Autobiography than through his relative- 
ly small repertoire of famous sculptural works, chiefly the Perseus. Our perception 
of Cellini is therefore largely as a book. Gallucci analyses the Autobiography to show 
its origins in Cellini's readings of Dante, Ariosto and Condivi's Life of Michelangelo. 
She also gives us a new way of reading Cellini's life in light of the larger context of 
sexual politics and the emergence of new readings of masculinity in Cinquecento 
Florence. To do this, Gallucci situates the Autobiography within the wider scope of 
Cellini's broader literary production, concentrating equally on the poetics of his 
sonnets (some newly discovered and published here for the first time). 

As Gallucci points out, most of Cellini's literary output dates from the peri- 
od after his second conviction for sodomy (1557). Gallucci offers extremely inter- 
esting insights into the politics of prosecution for sodomy in Renaissance Florence 
and suggests that Cellini's conviction on the second charge, which occurred when 
he was at the height of his artistic achievement under the aegis of Duke Cosimo I 
de' Medici, was chiefly a political statement on the part of the Duke. Cellini's con- 
viction proved that Cosimo was willing to regulate this kind of sexual transgres- 
sion and, by commuting the sentence to house arrest rather than imprisonment, 
that the Duke was able to use the same occasion as an opportunity to demonstrate 
his clemency. Gallucci argues that it was partially Cellini's perception ol the injus- 
tice of this conviction, which robbed him of the Duke's favour and thrust him into 
relative artistic obscurity, that drove him to poetry. This was the impetus for his 
Autobiography. Cellini also became the author of highly inventive refigurations of 
Petrarchan canons in the defence of homosexual love. Gallucci argues that the fre- 
quent references to sodomy found in the Autobiography can also be read as a 
defence of his transgressive sexual practices, thereby redefining the Autobiography 
as a tract that evolved as a kind of legal defence against the sexual policies ol the 
State. Since the danger of self-invention via autobiography is that it almost always 
subverts all hope for truth, Gallucci's book is extremely valuable in defining the 
'true' circumstances of the identity that Cellini invented lor himself, forged from 
the circumstances of proscriptions for sexual behaviour, particularly male sexual 
behaviour, in the complex artistic culture of Renaissance Florence. 

Cellini's mere indulgence in sonnet writing was also a self-conscious attempt 

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to equalize his own relationship to the well-documented and highly praised poet- 
ic output of his more famous contemporan', Michelangelo. Moreover, other 
Florentine painters associated with the Medici court at this time were also sonnet 
writers, most notably Bronzino, who also created complex and witry sexual alle- 
gories (most famously the Venus, Cupid, Time and Folly, National Gallery, 
London) for the delectation of precisely the same circle of privileged clients and 
contemporaries for whom CeUini worked, chiefly Francis I and the circle of 
Fontainebleau. The tenor of much of Cellini's poetic output compares favourably 
with such luxurious sexual conundrums and also with the work of the equally sex- 
ually voluble Pietro Aretino, whom Cellini seems ven,' much to have admired. 

Gallucci's analysis of Cellini's writing as a form of legal argumentation is con- 
vincing. In his poetr}', Cellini subverts Petrarchan conventions, normally used to 
express heterosexual love, to defend the practice of sodomy between men, thus 
articulating his defence of his own practices, and he also used his sonnets to launch 
attacks against artistic rivals like Vasari and Bandinelli, writing verses accusing 
them of sodomy. The master of the bon mot and double entendre lost no oppor- 
tunity to skewer his contemporaries. Certainly much of the Autobiography is con- 
cerned with artistic rivalr\', as Cellini asserts his superior talent as a goldsmith over 
contemporaries like Caradosso Foppa, Tobbia and Pompeo (curiously enough, all 
Milanese). It was Pompeo that he stabbed to death, for which he was forgiven by 
the Pope who proclaimed that ''men like Benvenuto, unique in their profession, 
stand above the law," a clear statement of artistic and legal superiorit}' that goes far 
to characterize the Autobiography as a form of legal defence (Symonds translation 
of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini, London, 1905, p. 144). In terms of artistic rival- 
r}^ the fact that Cellini later turned his attention to the creation of treatises on 
goldsmithing and on architecture could well have been motivated by the high seri- 
ousness of Giorgio Vasari's treatise writing. Certainly by the late sixteenth centu- 
V)', treatise writing had become a general mania among the artistic elite — witness 
Serlio, Bertani, and Palladio just to name three. Moreover, Vasari's success at the 
Medici court must certainlv have prompted Cellini to attempt new avenues to 
regain his artistic standing. 

GaUucci is at her best in Chapter Five, "Honor and Manliness, when she dis- 
cusses Cellini's self-invention not only in terms of his poetics, but rather in terms 
of his knowing manipulation of the perception of masculinit)' in early modern 
Florentine socien-. As Gallucci points out, in modern popular culture, Cellini has 
often been depicted as a waggish, roguish sort, a veneer of feminine charm dis- 
guising a capacitv' for masculine heroics, a popular heroic t^'pe in HoU}'wood cin- 
ema of the '30s, the same era that popularized the Scarlet Pimpernel {The Affairs of 
Celliniwâs made in 1934, The Scarlet PimpemeTin 1935 — Gallucci uses the exam- 
ple of Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938). Gallucci makes the 
important point that this duality emerged as an acceptable and successful vehicle 
for self-fashioning in courtly society-, which required "men like Cellini to be both 
a feminine courtier and a masculine defender of honor" (141). The sLxteenth cen- 
tur\' was a time of courtesy manuals that regulated ever}- aspect of public behav- 
iour, and the mannered life at court could easilv lead to accusations of effemina- 

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cy. Eventually the duel arose as a socially acceptable expression of controlled male 
violence. Cellini, and later Caravaggio and Marlowe, who had similar tempera- 
ments, probably to some extent countered overt societal control, and the need to 
court patrons, with spontaneous displays of 'swashbuckling' manly behaviour. 
Thus, Gallucci efifectively shows that, by the sixteenth century, the concept of 
masculinity was itself continually under revision, and that Cellini was "in the fore- 
front in articulating a new norm ot manhood" (113). Gallucci's excellent analysis 
of the evolving social consciousness about mascuhnity in Cinquecento Florence, 
as articulated in her examination of Cellini's literary oeuvre, should undoubtedly 
influence future readings of his artistic production. Moreover, this book will pro- 
vide future scholars with greater insights into the 'reading' of artistic representa- 
tions of sexualit)' and masculinity in this period. 

SALLY HICKSON 
Brock University 

Art History in the Age of Bellori: Scholarship and Cultural Politics in Seventeenth- 
Century Rome. Eds. Janis Bell and Thomas Willette. Cambridge and New York: 
Cambridge University Press, 2002. xvi, 396 pp.; 106 b/w illustrations. ISBN: 0- 
52 17-8248- L $90 US. 

Giovanni Pietro Bellori was surely the most significant and influential of all sev- 
enteenth-century historians of art in Italy. Most famous tor his highly selective 
biographies of contemporary artists [Le vite de' pittori, scultori et architetti moderni, 
1672), Bellori produced (as author, co-author, or editor) some twenty- five addi- 
tional works on subjects ranging from ancient medals to the Vatican frescoes of 
Raphael. This interesting collection of essays by an array of international scholars 
has its origins in a conference held in 1996 at the American Academy in Rome 
marking the tercentenary of Bellori's death. Together with the grand 2000 exhibi- 
tion in Rome and its resulting catalogue. L'idea del bello: viaggio per Roma nel 
Seicento con Giovan Pietro Bellori (ed. Evelina Borea and Carlo Gasparri), it is evi- 
dence of Bellori's continuing importance in seventeenth-centurj' studies. 

Given his importance, it is unfortunate that Bellori is often read only by spe- 
cialists in seventeenth-century art. The essays in this volume are, frankly, also pri- 
marily for the specialist, though Janis Bell has provided an extremely useful intro- 
duction that begins with an overview of Bellori's life and scholarship, followed by 
a lengthy but engrossing summary of his critical reception from the seventeenth 
century to the present. This helps greatly to situate the eleven essays in the book 
in historical and critical context, and to illuminate their overarching themes. 
Together, the participating authors have attempted to consider the relationships 
between Bellori's differing fields of scholarly activity (antiquarianism and the his- 
tory and criticism of contemporary art), and to reveal how his personal affiliations 
and career goals shaped his art criticism. One of the most intriguing aspects of the 
essays is, in fact, the erosion of the myth of Bellori's much-vaunted objectivity and 
impartiality, characteristics that led to his being so widely respected as a historian. 

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The essays are divided into two sections, titled "Bellori and the Republic of Letters 
in Seventeenth-Century Rome " and "Bellori's Lives: History, Criticism, Theory." 

The first section concentrates on Bellori's antiquarian activities and publica- 
tions. Giovanna Perini's fi-equently amusing essay, "Belloriana methodus, " presents 
evidence that Bellori practiced a highly "selective fidelity" to the scholarly method 
of his mentor, Francesco Angeloni; and that he used historiography as a "means of 
obtaining and consolidating his own personal power" (63), particularly as a pro- 
moter of cultural policies that had been established in Paris by Colbert and Louis 
XIV. Her essay may, however, have been an unfortunate choice to open the book, 
as it relies rather heavily on the assumption that the reader is a Bellori expert, and 
completely familiar with the complex French cultural milieu as well. The follow- 
ing, more accessible, essay by Louis Marchesano examines the (often negative) his- 
torical reception of Bellori's antiquarian writings to show that Bellori's brand of 
antiquarianism was a cornucopian one based on the concept of civil discourse, 
ideal for circles of noble collectors, where digression and erudition were prized 
above the systematic approach to the objects' chronology or context. 

Ingo Herklotz provides a detailed investigation of Bellori's 1672 publication on 
Trajan's Column, showing that many of the engravings by Pietro Santi Battoli suffer 
from the same inaccuracies as earlier engravings, thus disproving the publisher De 
Rossi's claim that Battoli had closely examined the frieze and made new drawings of 
all 2,500 figures. Herklotz also points out that Bellori's participation in producing 
such lavishly illustrated volumes, and his choosing to write his commentary in the 
vernacular, was aimed at a popular market, and that this was one of his major con- 
tributions as an antiquarian. In discussing Bellori's 1685 book on ancient portrait 
medals, the Veterum illustrium . . . imagines, Eugene Dwyer similarly shows that 
Bellori and Bartoli relied to a large extent on much earlier publications, and that the 
book was valued by collectors (such as Mariette) for its tasteful packaging, novel 
arrangement and beautiful engravings, even as they acknowledged that it contained 
few archaeological discoveries. Dwyer reveals that Bellori also apparently made sev- 
eral additions to the iconographical corpus in order to curry favour with prominent 
collectors, among them Queen Christina of Sweden, whom he served as her anti- 
quarian and librarian. Bellori's service to Queen Christina is also the subject of 
Tomaso Montanari's essay, an exploration of the many complexities involved in sit- 
uations of patronage. For Bellori was not merely her librarian: he also created an 
academy at the Queen's palazzo "to revive Roman sculpture from the torpor into 
which it had fallen" after Bernini's death (108); he helped to produce a post mortem 
inventory of the Queen's medal collection; and he may, as Dwyer argues, have helped 
Christina plan a series of about one hundred medals celebrating her life. In the last 
of the six essays in this part of the book, Hetty E. Joyce shows that Bellori's study of 
recently discovered ancient frescoes in the Nasonii funerary monument was related 
to his criticism of contemporary art, especially the descriptions of the Farnese 
Gallery frescoes in his Life of Annibale Carracci. 

Joyce's contribution is also related to the contents of Part Two of the book, 
whose five essays all deal in some way with Bellori's most studied volume, the Lives 
of the Artists. Claire Pace and Janis Bell argue that Bellori's engraved portraits of the 

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artists and the facing allegorical headpieces to the biographies were inspired by his 
antiquarian studies of ancient portrait medals and their reverses; and further, that 
Bellori intended this combination to convince his readers that artists were deserv- 
ing of the same recognition accorded to revered statesmen and philosophers of the 
ancient past. The authors recognize that Bellori's use of allegorical motifs is related 
to the frames surrounding artists' woodcut portraits in the 1568 edition of Vasari's 
Lives of the Artists, which include personifications of painting, sculpture and archi- 
tecture. However, they do not mention that Vasari's own enterprise of publishing 
the portraits, which are oval in shape, was also indebted to ancient medals and that 
his purpose was exactly the same as Bellori's: to glorify artists as heroes. Pace and 
Bell present a detailed iconographical analysis of each of the headpieces, finding 
allusions in them to previous works of art from antiquity to Raphael. Not all of 
these identifications are completely convincing; in some cases alternative sources 
might be suggested. On the other hand, some of their interpretations are illumi- 
nating, such as the association of Caravaggio's allegory, labelled Praxis, with per- 
spective manuals showing how to transfer images onto curved services: they explain 
that the headpiece "is not about practice in the sense of facility, but rather about 
the techniques ot creating pictures without theory" (218). This is ver)' much in 
keeping with Bellori's criticisms of Caravaggio in the Lives. 

The following three essays address Bellori's descriptions in the biographies of 
works of art. Martina Hansmann discusses Bellori's systematic approach and his 
employment of different t)'pes of description depending on the theme and impor- 
tance of each painting. She also shows how Bellori's approach parallels that of 
some theoreticians in the French Academy (such as Félibien), where the careful 
description oi paintings was also seen as an important starting point for analytical 
investigations. Anthony Colantuono presents a nuanced investigation of Bellori's 
use of the word "scherzo, " which can mean a game or jest, but was also a special- 
ized term in Italian poetics signifying a type of concetto with an especially playful 
quality. Further, Bellori often employs the term, as did seventeenth-century liter- 
ary critics, to indicate a short concetto based upon classical Greek epigrams, for 
example in his descriptions of images by Poussin and Duquesnoy. In her essay, 
Janis Bell looks closely at Bellori's description of Domenichino's Last Communion 
of St. Jerome to show that his views on colour were completely in line with his gen- 
eral concept of classicism and idealization: the artist should select judiciously from 
nature and avoid extremes. For this chapter, it is unfortunate that colour illustra- 
tions are not provided. 

The final essay by co-editor Thomas Willette shows how even after Bellori's 
death, his book continued to be used for the purposes of cultural politics. He 
examines the origins and significance of the 1728 edition of the Z/W^ published in 
Naples by Francesco Ricciardi, which included a newly-written biography of the 
Neapolitan painter Luca Giordano - a painter Bellori would almost certainly not 
have included in his canon of great artists, and who was included in this edition 
for the nationalistic purpose of promoting the cultural history of Naples. 

As these summaries suggest, the essays in the volume are restricted in focus, 
so much so that it helps if the reader comes to them with a good knowledge of 

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Bellori to begin with. At the same time, however, they are also full of useful infor- 
mation for anyone interested in seventeenth-century cultural politics and systems 
of patronage, or in the history of antiquarianism. Scholars interested in Bellori 
himself will find them especially useful in illuminating the relationships between 
Bellori's varied fields of activity and his complex relationships with patrons, col- 
lectors, artists, and theoreticians. 

SHARON GREGORY 

St. Francis Xavier University 

Scalabrini, Massimo. L'incarnazione del macaronico. Percorsi nel comico folenghia- 
no. Bologna: II Mulino, 2003. Pp. xix, 190. ISBN 88-15-09455-5. 15 Euro. 

"Phantasia mihi plus quam phantastica venit / historiam Baldi grassis cantare 
Camoenis," scrive Teofilo Folengo in apertura del Baldus (Torino: Einaudi, 1989, 
libro primo, w. 1-2, 2), capolavoro rinascimentale che ancora attende di trasfor- 
marsi da spettrale a 'reale presenza' del canone letterario italiano. Di questa 'fan- 
tastica fantasia' si occupa l'originale, interessante e colto lavoro di Massimo 
Scalabrini, il cui coraggio intellettuale dovrà essere particolarmente sottolineato se 
si considera come abbia scritto questo lavoro su un aspetto importante dell' 'altra' 
tradizione italiana, quella che dai suoi esordi sino ad oggi sfida il dominio della 
retorica 'in lingua,' nell'ambito della accademia letteraria nordamericana, ancor 
oggi spesso sclerotizzata in stanchi e ripetitivi esami delle tre corone e dei più 
conosciuti e 'sicuri' autori del canone, quelli che con più certezza assicurano un 
lavoro universitario. L'ambizioso scopo del volume di Scalabrini è, come si legge 
nell'introduzione, di investigare "la teologia del comico " espressa dalla produzione 
letteraria di Folengo, che non si limiti al suo testo più conosciuto ma anzi lo metta 
in dialogo con le opere in italiano e in latino dello stesso scrittore (17). Scalabrini 
giustamente insiste come attraverso un esame di Folengo si possa determinare "la 
genealogia macaronica della moderna vocazione al 'misto'" (15). Lo studioso crede 
identificare "nell'evento incarnazionale (nell' "umanazione" del Verbo giovanneo) 
insieme il motivo e la matrice della poetica contaminatoria," poiché, secondo 
Scalabrini, "la poetica del macaronico folenghiano va posta in relazione con l'e- 
mergere e affermarsi, tra Quattrocento e Cinquecento, di un orientamento teo- 
logico teso a sottolineare l'incarnazione e l'umanità" di Cristo (16). Che l'incar- 
nazione del Verbo possa essere la fonte originale della vocazione letteraria italiana 
al "misto" è ipotesi di grande interesse, anche se ulteriori analisi sarebbero neces- 
sarie per confermare o smentire se ne sia sempre stata e ne sia ancora il "motivo" 
formante. In ambito contemporaneo, ad esempio, un'indiscutibile connotazione 
religiosa è presente in Testori, scrittore che Scalabrini evita di citare, oltre che 
Pasolini, ma sarà più arduo da provare ad esempio in Fo. Ma varrà la pena ricor- 
dare come "Teofilo" sia il nome che Girolamo Folengo scelse quando nel 1509 
pronunciò i voti nel convento benedettino di Sant'Eufemia, nei pressi di Brescia. 
I capitoli di maggiore interesse del lavoro in questione sono il primo ed il se- 
condo. Nel primo, dal titolo "Puer Macaronicus" (19-46), con grande sapienza e 

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cultura l'autore porta alla superfìcie gli echi letterari (soprattutto numerosi cantari 
medievali, ma anche l'Orlandino, altro testo in italiano dello stesso Folengo) e 
soprattutto teologici presenti nella descrizione della nascita di Baldus, descritta 
nella seconda parte del secondo libro e nella prima del terzo, che apertamente 
echeggia la narrativa della natività. Rielaborando una dichiarazione di Bachtin 
concernente i canoni letterari dell'età classica, Scalabrini ricorda come "la scelta 
dell'infanzia e dei suoi referenti grotteschi ... equivale ... a una decisiva presa di 
posizione poetica," a dire, "la promozione di quanto è solitamente relegato nel 
dominio dell'incompiuto, dell'eccessivo e del facile alla sfera di ciò che domanda 
di essere espresso" (23-24). Pagine molto coinvolgenti sono dedicate al riso del 
neonato ("lUe nihil plorat, sed vultu grignat alegro") che l'autore vede connesse a 
delle riscritture della natività cristiana presenti in alcune leggende apocrife, oltre 
che alla quarta ecloga di Virgilio (Folenfo, Baldus, libro secondo, v. 470, 72) Il 
riso del Baldus neonato costituisce, secondo l'autore, "la scoperta centrale della 
poesia folenghiana dell'infanzia" ed è "il lascito forse più prezioso affidato dal 
grande macaronico alla tradizione (e dell'ermeneutica) del comico" (46). 

Il secondo capitolo (47-82) esamina la figura di Cingar, compagno di Baldus, 
che l'autore legge alla luce delle sue fonti letterarie, soprattutto la figura topica di 
Margutte attraverso il Pulci, Boiardo e Ariosto, ma anche il Momus di Alberti. La 
centralità del personaggio di Cingar risiede, come lo studioso mette bene in risalto, 
nella sua natura emblematica di "reietto," dello "straniero privo di protezione" 
(67). Nel terzo capitolo dal titolo "Palpabili voci," Scalabrini pone il tema dell'in- 
fanzia presente nel Baldus in dialogo con altre opere di Folengo, ad iniziare dalla 
Palermitana ma includendo anche il successivo Umanità del Figliuolo di Dio. In 
questa parte, grazie a queste letture incrociate, Scalabrini prova una sua convin- 
cente intuizione riguardante la "vocazione del macaronico folenghiano." Lo stu- 
dioso afferma che tale "vocazione" riguarda un "meditare sull'umanità pre-sogget- 
tiva e pre-linguistica dell' infans, il cui paradigma è naturalmente il Cristo bambi- 
no" (88). Scalabrini sintetizza la sua ricerca in questo campo affermando che "la 
poesia del mantovano dispiega un'attenzione sistematica all' 'Umanità del 
Figliuolo di Dio,' piti volte ne contempla, in particolare, il momento della nasci- 
ta" (107). Interessante, ma meno probante e necessario, è il seguente esame del 
concetto del "toccare con mano" (124) che l'autore allarga ad altri scrittori rinasci- 
mentali (le commedie di Ariosto, Machiavelli, Aretino, Della Porta e Giordano 
Bruno), esame che occupa una sezione del quarto capitolo e che sembra esulare 
dalla convincente analisi della poetica di Folengo (124-35). 

In conclusione, il lavoro di Massimo Scalabrini si propone quale colto ed 
innovativo studio su un autore ed un fenomeno letterario di centrale importanza 
per la cultura italiana, non solo rinascimentale. 



ARMANDO MAGGI 

University of Chicago 



121 



Recensioni 



Aleramo, Sibilla. Una domia. Nuova ed. Prefazione di Anna Folli, postfazione di 
Emilio Cecchi. Milano: Feltrinelli, 2003. Pp. xxi + 172. 

Folli, Anna. Penne leggère. Neera, Ada Negri, Sibilla Aleramo. Scritture femmi- 
nili fra Otto e Novecento. Milano: Guerini e Associati, 2000. Pp. 253. 

Io ho dinanzi a me il futuro, anche se voi non lo credete. These words of Sibilla 
Aleramo open the preface to the most recent edition of Una donna, the forty- 
eighth since its first appearance in 1906 (STEN of Torino). It was considered by 
Aleramo herself to be a true classic and she marked her literary birth by the date 
of its first publication (3 November). The words are telling in several ways. They 
revisit the attitude demonstrated by Aleramo, no longer only Rina Pierangeli 
Faccio, no longer only daughter of Ambrogio and Ernesta, no longer wife, and, 
scandalously, no longer just mother of Walter. But they also describe the approach 
taken by literary critic VVnna Folli in her introductory essay. Mentored by Antonia 
Arslan, Folli is of a new generation of Italian literary critics; she is highly knowl- 
edgeable of the imposing and ineluctable critical tradition established in the late 
nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century by literary judges such 
as Croce, Binni, Sapegno. At the same time, she is unafraid of surpassing the tra- 
dition, or even thwarting it, as she approaches her subject boldly, confidently, pro- 
viding the reader along the way with an overwhelming wealth of critical informa- 
tion, and of personal reflection that one does not read in her predecessors. 

Ofi:en the introductory essay to a novel is overlooked in order to arrive faster 
at the pages of the novel itself In this case, it is well worth stopping for a brief peri- 
od to enjoy the essay itself In its 15 pages. Folli manages to provide important 
background information for the novel and also points of departure for reflective 
thought as we read the novel. Here the point that she asks us to consider is "la death 
in life dei romantici, contro la quale [Aleramo] combattè pur sempre sublimandola 
in miracolo d'amore e sacrificio" (xxi) Seen in this way, not scandalous, not femi- 
nist, but human, Aleramos work and life are enriched by a new perspective. 

This highly readable introductory essay brought me to another recent work of 
literary criticism by Anna Folli, Penne leggère. Again, as in the prefatory essay to La 
Donna, Folli enters immediately into the thick of things, compelling us from the 
outset to consider, and reconsider, what it means to write critically of literature by 
women: "A chi si occupa di scrittrici capita sempre di incontrare qualcuno che chiede 
se la letteratura femminile esiste. Sorvolando sui presupposti della domanda, si 
preferisce rispondere che la definizione è astratta; meglio restringersi al dato cultur- 
ale che esistono libri, testi, scritti da donne. Anzi bisogna farlo, anche solo al ricor- 
do della fortuna di quelle formule inventate da Luciano Zùccoli, all'inizio del seco- 
lo: il pericolo roseo, il gaietto sciame...'' (p. 1 1). Folli challenges us to accept these cul- 
tural givens; if we do, then we can approach the books, the texts and the writings by 
women without succumbing to the temptation of Zuccoli's saccharine epithets. 

In each ol the three sections of her work. Folli impresses with her panoramic 
view of the lives and works of Neera, Negri, and Aleramo respectively. In her critical 
approach she is much closer to the traditions of Anglophone literary critics than to 
those of traditional Italian studies. She casts her net widely; no detail of the lives or 

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works of her three subjects seems to escape her. One must laud the assiduous hunt 
for confirmation and for corroboration which she undertakes. Her studies have 
taken FolH to the more obscure file folders of various archives, to much unpublished 
but seminal material, all of it carefully annotated. I offer as one example her study 
of Ada Negri's awareness of and admiration for Walt Whitman. In reading, one feels 
that Folli has been able to reproduce very closely through Ada's letters and com- 
ments, and through quotations of the American poet, how Negri must have appre- 
ciated Whitman. Here, as throughout Penne lecere, the footnotes are ample, infor- 
mative, and give original information. Above all, they are interesting to read and to 
consider. It there is one criticism that might be made of this study, it is precisely that 
the notes are so rich in detail that they threaten to take over the text. For example, 
her long discussion of the interaction between Gabriele D'Annunzio and Angelo 
Conti in the section on Sibilla Aleramo takes many pages to get to the point, pages 
in which Aleramo is absent and which leave the reader wondering why they were 
included. But if we are patient, the answer to our query is there. The impression left 
by such a generous wealth of material is that, in the end, the women focussed upon 
in this study were not writing in feminine, or even feminist, isolation. We forget per- 
haps that they were formidable figures in their own time, not only in literature but 
in journalism, politics, and social reform. They were widely read, and succeeded in 
establishing for themselves what today would be called extensive networks and con- 
nections; they were talked about as influential colleagues by other writers, male and 
female alike, and not only within the confines of Italian borders. 

In conclusion, just a brief note on the sryle of the Penne leggère. Folli has suc- 
cessfully provided a serious study without tailing into the trap of overt didacticism. 
Her book is highly readable and engaging. At the same time, as academics and stu- 
dents we are truly grateful for her generosity in sharing her detailed notes and 
resources. Her confidence in knowing her material so well does not overshadow 
her delight in her research 'Tinds"; the latter she conveys in her book without 
recourse to pedantic rhetoric. Quite to the contrary, her sryle invites the reader to 
discover along with her and to reflect on how the numerous threads that she pre- 
sents in describing each author, finally tie together to give us a comprehensive view 
of the lives and the writings of Neera or Negri or Aleramo. Altroché leggère! 

In her comment above, Aleramo referred to the ftiture of writing. If in this study 
we have an example ol the future of Italian literary criticism, then it does auger well. 

ANNE URBANCIC 
University of Toronto 

Cesaretti, Enrico. Castelli di carta. Retorica della dimora tra Scapigliatura e 
Surrealismo. Ravenna: Longo, 2001. Pp. 159. ISBN 8-8806-3284-1. 

This book is an excellent re-examination of the literary and historical contribution 
of the late nineteen-century movement known as "Scapigliatura." Though the 
work of Emilio Praga, Carlo Dossi, Ugo Tarchetti, and Arrigo Boito has been the 
subject of considerable critical attention over the last one hundred years or so, 
largely in the context of Italian Decadentism, Enrico Cesaretti revises the tradi- 

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donai reading of this group's reaction to positivist thought and to traditional lit- 
erary form by interpreting the centrality of the "dimora" or dwelling topos in the 
representation of a spatiality that has implications for our understanding not only 
of the Italian literary canon and the twentieth-century avant-garde, but also of 
post-Unification social and political realities. 

In Part 1, titled "Dissacrazioni scapigliate, " the author uses the work ofTzvetan 
Todorov ( The Fantastic: a Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, 1 973) and Juri 
Lotman ( Tipologia della cultura, 1 987) as a theoretical framework for exploring the 
relationship between "topology" and "tropology" as it pertains to Memorie del pres- 
biterio. Scene di provincia, a novel co-authored by Praga and Roberto Sacchetti. 
Cesaretti focuses on such places as the presbytery, church, or garden and he identi- 
fies episodes in which figures representing ecclesiastical authority indulge in trans- 
gressive behaviour, that is, acts of "dissacrazione" that defile those spaces. At the 
same time, the author detects in the description of these incidents a certain nostal- 
gia or desire for a more ethical conduct, a yearning for a spiritual ideal — at least on 
the part of the narrator. From here, Cesaretti goes on to locate this duality or antithe- 
sis in works by other "scapigliati" and to identify several instances in which charac- 
ters abandon "dimore" that are no longer livable and search for more suitable 
dwelling places. In this endless quest for the "Promised Land," Cesaretti sees the 
emergence of a modernist sense of spiritual alienation. He also develops a parallel 
interpretation by suggesting that the dual process of "desecration" and "seculariza- 
tion" is a critical response to Italian society's attempts to demolish the past as it trans- 
formed itself into a modern state. For the "scapigliati" the result of such a process is 
a loss of orientation: "La logica spaziale del romanzo [...] delinea gli aspetti di una 
cultura che procede verso la desacralizzazione senza poter dimenticare il sacro e che 
si secolarizza senza poter fare a meno di elementi cristiani" (43). 

Since the author's intention is to establish a thematic continuum from the lit- 
erature of the late 1800s to the Futurist and Surrealist movements in the first two 
decades of the 1900s, "Verso le avanguardie," the second part of the book, is 
intended to function as a bridge. In other words, Cesaretti locates texts in which 
the "spaesamento scapigliato" is given literal and metaphorical expression as depar- 
ture from a given "dimora." To this end, he considers the work of G.P. Lucini, 
which the author offers as a "punto d'incontro fra scapigliati e futuristi" [GA), the 
short stories of Luigi Gualdo, a "secondo trait d'union sia con l'atmosfera sim- 
bolista-decadente di fine secolo che con la narrativa del ventesimo secolo " {dG), 
and certain passages from D'Annunzio's novel II piacere , where the occurrence of 
a "profanazione di uno spazio" (73) links up with the main argument in the first 
part of Castelli di carta . It should be noted, however, that this particular segment 
is almost exclusively stylistic or structuralist in its approach; the social and politi- 
cal dimensions of the "retorica della dimora" appear to have been set aside. 

In a self-effacing statement appearing in Part 3, titled "Demolizioni e 
ricostruzioni futuriste," the author states that his aim is not to redefine Futurism, 
but rather to identify in that complex cultural movement, "i segni relativi ad un 
immaginario della 'dimora'" (81). He examines the treatment of certain interior 
spaces in Marinetti's Vengono. Dramma d'oggetti and Lo spazio vivente in terms of 

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the theories of Emanuel Lévinas, Gaston Bachelard, and Martin Heidegger with 
respect to the concept of "inhabiting" a place. Cesaretti does well to reconcile the 
Futurist embrace of movement, dynamism, and indeed violence, with the notion of 
nomadism or abandonment of places felt to be inauthentic and unlivable. 
Nevertheless, this premise tends to lead him quite far afield, for example, into some 
of the writings of such figures as Maeterlink, Maria Ginanni, and St Theresa of Avila. 
These forays into the realm of the fantastic, the dreamlike, and the mystical are 
served up as plausible corollaries of the Futurists' problematization of the notion of 
"dimora" with its "tendenza verso la spiritualizzazione" (92). At this point, the cru- 
cial role of the "scapigliati" as precursors of certain aspects of Futurism and 
Surrealism is a bit tenuous and the author acknowledges this in writing: "mi rendo 
conto, non senza sgomento, di aver citato [. . .] personaggi fondamentalmente diver- 
si e lontani fra loro sia spazialmente che temporalmente: il medievale instauratorc 
della 'topologia mistica,' una mistica rinascimentale spagnola, una 'fiiturista anom- 
ala operante a Firenze, un simbolista belga" (93). The fact that he explains their 
presence in this chapter on the grounds that they all reflect on an important issue in 
human existence does not entirely justify the diminished focus. 

In the concluding Part 4, "Surrealismo e dintorni," Cesaretti first provides an 
overview of the problem of definition associated with the term "Surrealism," espe- 
cially in the context of Italian literature and art. He, then, moves on to apply the 
interpretation of the "dimora" as both a destructive and a constructive practice. He 
takes as his operational definition the process whereby reality is subverted or sub- 
jected to what Cesaretti calls a "de-realizzazione del quotidiano" (102) for the pur- 
pose of uncovering what lies beyond the rationalit)' or objectivity of the sensible 
world. The establishment of a line of continuit)^ with the "Scapigliatura" relies 
essentially on the Freudian concept of the "unheimlich," which is to say the 
uncanny or the strange. Accordingly, the trajectory runs from a "heimlich" or 
familiar setting to, "un sempre più invadente 'unheimlich' che ha inizio in alcuni 
aspetti della sensibilità letteraria scapigliata" (104). The focus of this section is on 
aspects of La casa ispirata (1925) and Hermaphrodito (1974), novels by Alberto 
Savinio, as well as some writings by Tommaso Landolfi. Playmg off against Freud's 
and Derrida's opinions on repetition and its implications in terms of the subcon- 
scious, Cesaretti relates this narrative to his original thesis of antithetical authori- 
al attitudes towards the "dimora" (i.e. demolition and reconstruction): "pur 
essendo 'solida e quadrata, stabile, è anche precaria e dunque destinata a non 
rimanere 'sul mondo mutante e medesimo [. . .] fra le case degli uomini'" (122-23). 

To conclude, by taking as his starting point the "visione anti-borghese" 
expressed by the "scapigliati" as an almost schizophrenic attitude toward the 
"dimora," the author takes into consideration an impressive array of writers from 
Heidegger, Derrida, Freud, and Jung, to Kaflca, Pirandello, De Chirico, and Carra. 
In the process, Enrico Cesaretti takes the reader on a fascinating and insightful 
journey through Italian modernism. 



CORRADO FEDERICI 

Brock University 

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Recensioni 



Minghelli, Giuliana. In the Shadow of the Mammoth: Italo Svevo and the 
Emergence of Modernism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. Pp. 238. 

Giuliana Minghelli's book represents a noteworthy shift in perspective in the 
English-speaking criticism of Italo Svevo. Unlike her predecessors, P.N. Furbank, 
Brian Moloney, Naomi Lebowitz, Charles Russel, and Beno Weiss, who were pri- 
marily interested in exploring Italo Svevo's work through biographical lens, 
Minghelli's approach to Svevo is mainly through theoretical investigative tools. The 
constant focus on what was called the "Italo Svevo case," a trend that dominated 
Svevo studies for many years, may be accounted for by a variety of factors, such as 
the scarcity of biographical details in the English-speaking world, the fascinating 
intricacies oi Swewos frontier identity, and the spectacular turn of his literary fate. This 
general interest in the novelist's biography reached its peak in 1988 when John Gatt- 
Rutter claimed to be writing the Svevo biography with his Italo Svevo: A Double Life. 
More than a decade later, as the "white areas" on the Svevo map had long been cov- 
ered, his critics eventually resolved to adopting a fresh perspective in approaching 
Svevo's work and, therefore, resorting to theories that had become quite successful in 
literary studies. Giuliana Minghelli's contribution has the merit of being the first 
book-length study that applies a post-structuralist reading to Svevo's work. 

The book is divided into two major sections that roughly correspond to a dis- 
tinction between theory and practice. Thus, in the Introduction and in the first two 
chapters Minghelli outlines her theoretical premises, while in chapters three to six 
she provides a textual analysis of Svevo's representative writings: the three novels, 
several short stories, two plays, and some autobiographical texts. Minghelli's reread- 
ing of Svevo contains at its crux the metaphor of the shadow of the mammoth, seen 
as the locus where the "allegory of symbiosis," namely "the crucial poetic and philo- 
sophical moment in [Svevo's] writing" (4) unfolds. It is in this shadow that the 
communion between the vulnerable yet restless man and the other develops. The 
novelty of Minghelli's study lies in the exploration of this area where intersubjective 
contaminations not only of genders, but also of nationalities and races, as signposts 
of modernity, occur. By rethinking the areas that have been generally overlooked by 
traditional criticism, Minghelli's objectives are as follows: (i) to reassess the status of 
the Svevian woman, so far largely stereotyped as a mere object of male desire, by 
revealing her involvement in the allegory of symbiosis; (ii) to reconsider the much 
criticized lack of gender or racial purity in Svevo's male characters; (iii) to investi- 
gate the intersubjective space existing between the man and the other, that is, the 
interval where gender transgression takes place; (iv) to re-evaluate the nature of 
Svevo's participation in the modernist project. 

Minghelli's re-evaluation of Svevo relies heavily on two rather unknown fables 
that the novelist wrote around 1910, long before he became famous: "La cor- 
ruzione dell'anima" and "L'uomo e la teoria darwiniana." In the first chapter of the 
book, "Between Darwinian Origins and Modernist Ends: Svevo's Allegory of 
Symbiosis," Minghelli puts forward a thorough investigation of these fables, pro- 
jecting her reading against a background dominated mostly by Darwin and 
Nietzsche. To Minghelli, the most notable consequence of rereading the two fables 

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lies in the revision oi the interpretative canon that this addition triggers: thus, 
Svevo's work does not entail the manifestation of the "ironic hero of modernism" 
(35), but the less visible, yet extant, process of constructing the self through sym- 
biotic interaction with the other. 

In the second chapter of the book, "Of Artists, Women, and Jews: Svevo and 
the Modernist Contamination," Minghelli re-evaluates what critics have called the 
"feminization" of the classical subject, so visible in the Svevian male protagonists. 
The chapter presents Minghelli's quarrel with one of the most seminal readings of 
Svevo, Giacomo Debenedetti's famous essay "Svevo e Schmitz," published as early 
as 1929. Debenedetti's interpretation, according to Minghelli, is biased not only 
by a marked nostalgia for omniscient authors, carefully knitted plots and strong, 
well-defined characters, in short for nineteenth-century narratives, but also by the 
growing authority of Fascist rhetoric. Instead of performing a genuine analysis of 
the modernist elements in Svevo, Debenedetti developed his argument into a dif- 
ferent direction by turning to what Minghelli calls a "discourse of race" which, 
associated with a "discourse of gender," sought to elucidate and counteract Svevo's 
uncomfortable theme of mutual contamination through recourse to the writer's 
biography. Thus, in accordance with the Weiningerian logic, namely, that the 
woman and the Jew are equally inferior by comparison to the Arian man. 
Debenedetti denounced the feminine essence of all Svevian male characters. 
Contrary to Debenedetti's belief in an obvious similarity between Weininger and 
Svevo, Minghelli sides with Anderson's powerful statement: "Svevo represents 
everything Weininger wrote against" (63). 

In the second half of the book (chapters three to six), Minghelli switches from 
theory to practice and proposes a reading of Svevo's major texts in light of her own 
theoretical insights. Although meticulously carried out, her textual analyses do not 
reach the same intensity as the theoretical exposition outlined in the preceding 
chapters. All too often, Minghelli chooses to retell in her own words the Svevian 
scenes that she is about to interpret, a habit that makes some passages sound pro- 
saic. A sort of lexical pedantry also surfaces in the text to the point of becoming 
annoying. While in the theoretical sections of the book, the use of post-struc- 
turalist jargon is appropriate, in literary analyses it becomes more of an abuse, 
especially when repeated excessively. This is the case with the word "economy," 
which seems to proliferate ceaselessly in stilted compounds such as "economy of 
pedagogy," (139) "male economy," (157) "economy of desire," (193) to quote only 
a few examples. Of course, one cannot reduce the whole section to these regret- 
table occurrences, but it is equally true that they impair the fluency of the argu- 
ment to a certain degree. 

Hence, the sense of a gap that seems to come between the two parts of the 
book. Moreover, it seems that La coscienza di Zeno, of all the texts surveyed by 
Minghelli, is the only one closer in spirit to the Svevian fable of the man and the 
Mammoth. This is not to say, however, that the rest of Minghelli's interpretations 
are infelicitous, but to observe that only Svevo's last novel lends itself best to the 
type of reading proposed in the theoretical opening. It soon becomes clear that 
Minghelli's reading aims at identifying the coherent progression that runs through 

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Svevo's entire work, from its first rather sketchy emergence in Una Vita to its full- 
fledged materialization in La coscienza di Zeno, a development that may be sum- 
marized as man's constant search for symbiosis with the other. Perhaps Minghelli 
ought to have elaborated more on the sharp irony inherent in Zeno's fate, as he 
eventually chooses to step outside the shadow of the other at the end of a novel 
that seemingly stages the fable of man and the Mammoth in each of its eight chap- 
ters. It is nevertheless Minghelli's merit to have intuitively perceived the rich 
potential buried within Svevo's fable and to have extended its significance beyond 
a supposedly limited usage. 

While the book makes a contribution to Svevo Studies, and, to be sure, will 
stimulate further debates within the Svevian community, its internal configuration 
is rather uneven. After a first part convincingly articulated, in which fruitful sug- 
gestions are played out with rigour and eloquence, the second part appears to be 
trapped in its own shadow. 

SORIN TOMUTA 
University of Alberta 

Leake, Elizabeth. The Reinvention of Ignazio Silone. Toronto: University of 
Toronto Press, 2003. Pp. 200. ISBN 0-8020-8767-1. US.$ 50. 

When the 'Silone Case' first broke in the Italian press in 1996, many people sim- 
ply refused to believe the story. It was impossible that Ignazio Silone, one of the 
most celebrated anti-fascists of the 1930s, whose novels had educated a whole gen- 
eration of people across the world about Mussolini's Italy, could have spied for the 
very regime he seemed to have opposed. As more and more evidence emerged 
about Silone's betrayal, it became harder and harder to go into denial about what 
had happened. Most people now accept that Silone had passed information to the 
police over a fairly extended period of time. Arguments remain over why and for 
how long the politician/writer had been a spy. The traditional defence of Silone - 
that he spied to save, or try and save, his brother Romolo from fascist imprison- 
ment, have now been more or less debunked. Silone had probably been passing 
information to one specific member of the police authorities since 1919, and 
appeared to have done so right up to 1929. If anything, the arrest of his brother 
in 1928 on trumped up bombing charges led to the end of the spying, and not to 
its beginning. In fact, it seems, the saga of Romolo's arrest led Silone to stop 
informing, to take a moral decision, and to abandon the Italian Communist Party. 
Only a few 'heroic' supporters of Silone now try and claim that all the documents 
are either false or irrelevant. 

Elizabeth Leake's interesting book is not aimed at a detailed discussion of the 
'Silone case,' but it does take its lead from that case. Leake's aim is to revisit Silone's 
work (and life) in the light of this startling new information about the man him- 
self This is done through what Leake terms a "psychoanalytic approach to Silone's 
texts in light of the archival material the study presents" (10). To this end, Leake 
examines not only Silone's fiction, but also some of the extraordinary material 

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relating to his double life as a police spy. Much of this analysis is convincing and 
lucid, particularly the personal readings of the ways in which Silone passed 
through crisis and trauma towards his more successful fiction, as he made a break 
with the double life of spy/communist militant, but not with a life filled with 
secrets, guilt and deceit. 

Leake maintains that Silone's fiction was for him a kind of catharsis whereby 
he exorcised some of the demons of the past through the written word. This kind 
of reading is then applied to a series of Silone novels, which are 're-read,' with 
some elegance, by Leake. What emerges is a complicated and multi-layered liter- 
ary and political figure, who fits uneasily into the Gramscian tradition, which has 
sometimes been his supposedly natural home. As Leake puts it, "Silone's texts suc- 
cessfully conceal and reveal simultaneously" (146). Adriano Sofri has called the 
story of Silone "an Italian tragedy " and adds "one re-reads all of Silone, and one 
thinks: how could we not have seen it before. " Leake's work helps us in this re- 
reading, whilst warning against the dangers of seeing everything — exclusively — 
through the filter of the 'Silone case.' 

This is not to say that the book is without its problems. Above all, Leake 
seems rather confused in her placing of Silone within the Italian left. She under- 
estimates the hatred towards Silone on the communist left — Silone was an arch 
anti-communist after the war and one of the organizers of the Congress of 
Cultural Freedom. So, when Leake calls Silone a "hero of the Italian left," she is 
making an error. Silone was a hero only to part of the Italian left, and not its hege- 
monic part (the Communist Party). Leake notes this hostility (41), but does not 
draw the conclusions she might from this information. Moreover, her reading of 
the 'Silone case' is almost inevitably hindered by the immediacy of events, and 
their fast-moving nature. Finally, Leake does not look at a number of key works in 
detail. The themes of The Fox (1934) published in Italy in 1958 and the play And 
He Hides Himself (1944) are spying and treachery. The historian Mimmo 
Franzinelli mentioned an unpublished work (held in the Silone archive) called // 
Dossier, in which an anti-Fascist Minister of the Interior re-reads his own life 
through the police records of the Fascist period, as if Silone knew that one day he 
would be unmasked. We must await the promised new biography of Silone by one 
of the protagonists of the 'Silone case' — Dario Biocca — before drawing further 
conclusions about Silone's life and works. In the meantime, Leake's work helps us 
to understand the intricacies of this tormented literary figure. 

JOHN FOOT 

University College London 

Torriglia, Anna Maria. Broken Time, Fragmented Space. A Cultural Map for 
Postwar Italy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. Pp. 239. ISBN 0- 
8020-3604-X. 

In questo hbro Anna Maria Torriglia si prefìgge il compito ambizioso di esaminare 
l'ambiente culturale italiano del secondo dopoguerra. La prospettiva offerta è ori- 
ginale in quanto alcune delle molteplici contraddizioni del periodo preso in esame 

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si spiegano, secondo l'autrice, anche attraverso l'analisi dei legami con un passato 
culturale e politico che molti intellettuali preferivano soffertamente non 
riconoscere. Fin dalla prefazione — forse un po' troppo densa di presupposti teori- 
ci che trovano poi uno sviluppo solo frammentato nei capitoli seguenti — Torriglia 
spiega come la frattura rigidamente imposta fra la cultura del Ventennio fascista e 
quella del dopoguerra sia in realtà una costruzione artificiosa dettata da una 
memoria volutamente fallace; una memoria che, ad esempio, si rifiuta di ravvisare 
nel Realismo degli anni '30 un antecedente del più famoso ed emotivamente 
intenso "Neorealismo'che avrebbe seguito la fine della guerra. Seguendo le coor- 
dinate di analisi del tempo e dello spazio (già presenti dal titolo) e scegliendo una 
prospettiva multipla che oltre ad un'analisi storica e sociale offre un'attenta lettura 
di romanzi e film (Torriglia segue il metodo, secondo la scuola semiotica, della 
"Textualit)' of culture") l'autrice cerca di capire lo sforzo operato dagli scrittori e 
intellettuali italiani del dopoguerra nel tentativo di ri-creare un'identità nazionale 
che trova nella cultura il suo tramite privilegiato. Non a caso, dunque, Torriglia 
elegge Homi Bhaba ad interlocutore prediletto per spiegare come il tempo "pre- 
sente" non sia da interpretarsi esclusivamente in senso diacronico, cioè come suc- 
cessivo ad un passato da dimenticare; al contrario il presente è, secondo la 
definizione di Bhaba un luogo di "in betweeness", ovvero come sottolinea 
Torriglia: "a generative space that carves memories, feelings, and sensation out of 
both past and present while, at the same time, not coinciding with either" (XV). 

II libro si divide in quattro capitoli ben congegnati e che si integrano fra loro 
per offrire una visione complessiva del periodo preso in esame. Nel primo "Time 
has changed" l'autrice sviluppa le premesse che l'hanno portata all'analisi: il disa- 
gio nel confrontarsi col passato si esprime nel modo, intenso e contraddittorio, in 
cui si vive il presente. Torriglia prende in esame tre "testi", in senso multiculturale; 
in particolare: due film {Gioventù perduta , 1947, di PietroGermi, e Germania 
anno zero, 1948, di Rosssellini) e un romanzo: Un eroe del nostro tempo (1949) di 
PratoUni. L'attenta lettura, ricca di intuizioni, offre uno spettro multiplo e sfac- 
cettato delle diverse prospettive e dei vari tentativi di creazione della "nuova iden- 
tità italiana" che, necessariamente deve partire dalla distruzione della "vecchia" 
identità fascista. Nel film di Germi la "gioventù perduta" rappresentata da Stefano 
è quella che, cresciuta durante il fascismo, si ritrova poi spogliata di ogni valore e 
morale. Nel romanzo a tesi di Pratolini invece, "un eroe del nostro tempo" è il gio- 
vane Sandrino, vittima della degenerazione criminale causata dal fascismo. 
Sandrino rimane "fascista" anche dopo la caduta del regime, ma infine si salva rin- 
negando l'ideologia che l'aveva portato alla rovina.. Infine in Germania anno zero 
l'ambiente che viene ricreato è quello del dopoguerra tedesco dove il giovane 
Edmund, a differenza di Stefano e Sandrino, diventa criminale in circostanze del 
tutto imprevedibili. 

Il secondo capitolo offre una prospettiva sul dopoguerra "dalla parte di lei" e 
che si inserisce di taglio in una serie di studi letterari e femministi che hanno arric- 
chito, negli ultimi anni, il panorama critico internazionale. La lettura risulta in 
parte penalizzata dal fatto che il pezzo non risulta del tutto nuovo al lettore; già 
pubblicato sia come articolo in una rivista letteraria sia come saggio nel bel libro 

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Writing Beyond Fascism a cura di C. Gallucci ed E. Nerremberg, il capitolo resta, 
tuttavia, uno dei momenti più felici del libro, dove l'autrice unisce ad una sempre 
attenta analisi testuale — ^che va da Anna Banti ad Alba de Cespedes, e che studia 
l'immagine della donna in Bellissima di Visconti — un'indagine critica informata 
ed acuta secondo le coordinate delUa filosofìa di "Diotima" ed, in particolare, di 
Adriana Cavarero. "From Mother to Daughter" così è intitolato il capitolo, cerca 
di spiegare il fenomeno della nascita di una "genealogia femminile" dove il ruolo 
della maternità è da intendersi in senso completamente diverso da quello fino a 
quel momento implicito nella cultura fascista. La maternità è vista ora sì come 
momento importante nella vita della donna, ma non più in una prospettiva cul- 
turale di "annullamento" bensì di trasmissione di valori e qualità imprescindibil- 
mente femminili. Non solo, in questa prospettiva la maternità assume una qualità 
nuova in cui, volendo, si può "essere madri'" anche senza esserlo fisicamente bensì 
scegliendo di trasmettere la specifica soggettività femminile in un linguaggio teso 
a scontrarsi con un apparente "neutro universale" e che risulta invece legato uni- 
vocamente alla cultura patriarcale. Questo è anche il capitolo ove le premesse 
teoriche, trovano una piena realizazzione nell'interpretazione dei testi 

Il terzo capitolo del libro: "The Myth of America" studia il rapporto tra Italia 
e Stati Uniti sempre secondo la coordinata del tempo e dello spazio. Gli Stati Uniti 
rappresentano infatti, nell'Italia del dopoguerra, il luogo in cui, in un certo senso, 
"il futuro" è già accaduto. Essi si costituiscono dunque come punto di riferimen- 
to nel difficile momento di transizione da un'Italia ancora agricola e conservatrice, 
e desiderosa di dimenticare il passato, ed un'Italia industrializzata, urbanizzata e 
socialmente "nuova" ancora tutta da inventare. Ancora una volta Torriglia 
dimostra in modo convincente come "the myth of America" non sia affatto un 
fenomeno peculiare del dopoguerra; esso trova bensì le sue radici più profonde in 
quel "fascist americanism" (80) che si costituiva come la diretta controparte del 
"fascist anti-americanism"(80) in un'ambivalenza tipica della cultura fascista. A 
questo proposito chiarificatrice risulta la citazione da parte dell'autrice di Emilio 
Gentile: "Americanism was, for fascist culture, one of the main mythical 
metaphors of modernity, which was perceived ambivalently, as a phenomenon 
both terrifying and fascinating" (80). Gli autori e i registi esaminati in questo capi- 
tolo sono, fra gli altri. Pavese, Vittorini, De Santis, Rossellini e De Sica. 

Il quarto capitolo, infine, è dedicato al "viaggio" come fenomeno tipico del 
dopoguerra. L'intersezione delle due categorie di spazio e tempo si realizza piena- 
mente nel motivo del viaggio, ma "The Country at Hand", questo il titolo del 
capitolo, è importante anche per altre ragioni. Il tema del viaggio è legato ad un 
altro tema importante: la rappresentazione del Sud. Torriglia esamina Viaggio in 
Italia di Rossellini e // mare non bagna Napoli di Anna Maria Ortese. La lettura del 
Mare risulta interessante, in modo particolare, per le fini osservazioni linguistiche 
che fanno capire, dal di dentro, come Ortese riesca a conciliare, grazie appunto ad 
un uso del linguaggio che è peculiare a questa grande autrice del novecento ital- 
iano, la sua esperienza di giornalista con le sue qualità di "visionaria". Sarebbe stato 
interessante un breve accenno, a questo riguardo, ai rapporti difficili che Ortese 
intrattenne con i rappresentanti del neorealismo e alla polemica che seguì la pub- 
blicazione del Mare. Nel 1953 infatti, anno della pubblicazione, questo libro, 

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"neorealista" per definizione e struttura interna, si pone già in diretta polemica con 
il celebre movimento. Torriglia spiega come la posizione di Ortese, nella letteratu- 
ra italiana, sia una posizione di "solitudine". Forse, l'autrice non ci dice nulla a 
riguardo, la causa di questa solitudine è attribuibile anche in questo caso — almeno 
all'inizio e almeno in parte — al desiderio, comune agli intellettuali del dopoguer- 
ra, di tagliare i ponti con figure importanti del passato (mi riferisco a Bontempelli) 
che risultavano innegabilmente vicine alla poetica di Ortese. Nel momento in cui 
Ortese non riesce e non vuole più aderire alle anguste direttive del movimento 
neorealista viene infatti, e a lungo, dimenticata. 

Il libro, corredato da un'impeccabile bibliografìa e riccamente documentato 
offre un'analisi attenta e criticamente acuta del periodo successivo alla seconda 
guerra mondiale e contribuisce in modo rilevante a riaprire la discussione intellet- 
tuale su uno dei periodi più affascinanti e controversi della cultura italiana. 

COSETTA SENO REED 
Georgetown University 

D'Angeli, Concetta. Leggere Elsa Morante: Aracoelì, La storia. Il mondo salvato 
dai ragazzini. Roma: Carocci, 2003. Pp. 142. ISBN 8-8430-2661-5. E.13,90 

Concetta D'Angeli, studiosa da sempre della scrittura di Elsa Morante, ci regala 
questo prezioso libretto sulla seconda stagione dell'opera della scrittrice romana. 
Per seconda stagione, secondo la divisione teorizzata da Cesare Garboli, si intende 
il periodo a partire dalla metà degli anni '60, coincidenti con la pubblicazione del 
Mondo salvato dai ragazzini. Se dichiara di condividere il parere del critico, 
D'Angeli in realtà pone giustamente vari limiti alla sua validità odierna. I limiti 
sono le qualità intrinseche della scrittura morantiana, e cioè il suo fondamentale 
dinamismo, la capacità di rinnovamento formale, la specifica modalità espressiva. 
Elementi che infatti limitano a mio avviso la validità attuale di questa divisione in 
due fasi per attestare invece un filo conduttore all'opera intera. Le tematiche e 
specificità espressive di Elsa Morante vanno ben al di là dell'iniziale anafora criti- 
ca di Garboli, prima/dopo anni '60. Sebbene il mutamento formale sia innegabile 
— anzi l'ibridazione di generi iniziato a metà degli anni '60 dall'autrice ne è la con- 
ferma più evidente — sarebbe limitante continuare a vedere la sua opera ancora 
secondo tali parametri critici. 

A conferma di un mutamento di posizione rispetto all'iniziale allineamento 
con il parere di Garboli (e anche di Giovanna Rosa direi) — forse inconscio, forse 
imposto dalla mia lettura — ma comunque presente nella sua conversazione pen- 
sosa e pure asciutta e godibilissima per la sua chiarezza, D'Angeli inizia la raccolta 
di saggi sull'ultimo periodo di Morante non da quello sul Mondo, ma da quello 
assai corposo (quasi una traccia per un altro libro ancora) su Aracoeli, quarto ed 
ultimo romanzo dell'autrice. Il libro si chiude poi con una bellissima e acuta anali- 
si di "La serata a Colono," uno dei pochissimi lavori critici sulla difficile parte con- 
clusiva — ed opera teatrale — del Mondo. Un insieme diremmo cronologicamente 
renversé. Ma esistono dei motivi: il primo saggio, di grande respiro, risulta da 

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subito assai importante perché manifesta le coordinate metodologiche che poi 
fanno da legante alle varie parti del libro. D'Angeli vi analizza la struttura del 
romanzo attraverso il rapporto delia scrittrice con Pier Paolo Pasolini, un riferi- 
mento costante e difficile — come ha chiaramente dimostrato Walter Siti in un 
precedente scritto — nella vita di Morante a partire dalla metà degli anni '50. Vi si 
studiano tra l'altro la composizione formale, \z fabula e la struttura, l'uso della par- 
odia — in effetti sempre presente nella narrativa morantiana — ma questa volta pri- 
vata del senso comico — ed alcune figure e topoi come lo specchio, il doppio; il 
trattamento analogo del tema della morte e del sesso che facilitano e approfondi- 
scono il parallelo fra i due artisti. 

Il "tracciato pasoliniano ' che la critica riscontra in Aracoeli lascia spazio anche 
a un'influenza proustiana da cui si attinge per costruire immagini specifiche all'o- 
pera morantiana, l'attivarsi tipicamente proustiano della memoria secondo sen- 
sazioni fisiche, ma da cui — dato assai rilevante nel rintracciare tale influenza — 
non è mai comunque assente il pericolo costante della politica intesa come potere, 
dei totalitarismi che seguono la cronologia di questo personaggio per metà 
pasoliniano e per metà autobiografico. In tal modo, mi sembra che D'Angeli 
riconosca come le tematiche da lei analizzate in questo romanzo giungano a dei 
paralleli e a delle soluzioni stilistiche simili a quelle di lavori precedenti a questo, 
dimostrando come esista una organicità di pensiero (la filosofa Morante) che opera 
da legante alla scrittura e che funga anzi quasi da suo stesso manifesto. Una scrit- 
tura, quindi, quella di Elsa Morante, da cui sono imprescindibili — come si è spes- 
so notato — le ragioni etiche. 

D'Angeli sembra invocare la filosofia per il pensiero morantiano. Romanziera 
e poetessa, certo, ma oltre a questi ruoli, esiste anche quello che necessariamente 
la scrittrice romana svolse per via di quella "vitalità sostanziale" che seppe 
infondere ai "procedimenti formali della letteratura" (15). In questo mondo in cui 
gli alienati e gli abietti diventano protagonisti assoluti e vittime del Potere, 
Morante molto più di altri artisti italiani analizzò il tema della vittima, di quegli 
"accanimenti del mondo [ ...] contro un unico bersaglio" scrive D'Angeli, che fosse 
questo Useppe, Davide, non importa, perché i personaggi sono simboli di un'alle- 
goria maggiore, di un mondo rovinato dai totalitarismi e dal sistema borghese, 
oltre che dalla esplosiva unione dei due. 

L'ombra del pensiero di Simone Weil come del personaggio stesso (si men- 
ziona l'attività utilissima di Franco Fortini come suo traduttore italiano) avvolge 
invece il secondo saggio sulla pietà per gli umili e i diseredati davanti alla storia. 
GH animali ed il protagonismo che Morante sceglie per loro, soprattutto nella 
Storia quali esseri innocenti, incapaci di discernere fra il bene ed il male, sono l'ar- 
gomento di "Soltanto l'animale è veramente innocente." Tre sono le categorie in 
cui D'Angeli distingue la presenza degli animali nella Storia: quelli che fungono 
da personaggi autonomi dal mondo umano, Blitz, Bella, e Rossella. Bella, in par- 
ticolar modo, diventa — sappiamo — una madre putativa per Useppe, e parla la 
lingua degli umani. La seconda categoria è quella tradizionale, più rappresentata, 
del mondo animale, da cui si traggono spunti per costruire similitudini nella 
maniera manzoniana dei 'segugi' per i bravi di Don Rodrigo. Ma nel caso di 

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Morante, come giustamente commenta la critica, questa seconda categoria cono- 
sce una necessità affatto nuova, quella cioè di promuovere la terza prospettiva nel 
rapporto dialettico fra l'essere animale e quello umano che consiste in un'animali- 
tà intesa come metafora. Un avvicinarsi quindi ben più complesso dei due mondi 
rispetto a similitudini anche a volte scontate. L'assimilazione di Vilma al mondo 
animale, l'esempio scelto da D'Angeli, è senz'altro assai convincente, perché esiste 
in questo personaggio l'avvilente nozione di non essere riuscita a far capire la pro- 
pria precognizione. In questo Vilma è l'antitesi di Ida, la cui mitezza si rivela 
inutile quanto il funesto vaticinio di Vilma. Due personaggi femminili destinati 
entrambi a restare inascoltati dal discorso ufficiale, dalla storia ufficiale, pur suben- 
done le aspre conseguenze. Il più recente ecofemminismo non fa altro che ribadire 
concetti di oppressione che accomunano le donne agli animali, e in questo caso 
credo che si attagli alla perfezione agli oppressi di Morante. 

Trovo molto bello e molto importante questo lavoro di Concetta D'Angeli. 
La studiosa vi opera un'analisi di tale serietà riguardo all'ultima stagione moran- 
tiana che in realtà le sue considerazioni e riflessioni (molto ben documentate e cir- 
costanziate da ricerche che rivelano ancora una volta l'importanza di attente let- 
ture di testi autografi, lettere, note della scrittrice stessa) servono per riconsiderare 
l'opera della scrittrice romana, che credo a tutt'oggi una delle esponenti più con- 
troverse e incomprese della letteratura italiana. 

STEFANL\ LUCAMANTE 
The Catholic University of America 
Washington, DC 

Pellegrino, Anna Maria. Diary of a Rapist. Trans. Henry Veggian. Poughkeepsie, 
NY: Vivisphere Publishing, 2001. 149 pp. ISBN 1-892323-24-9 US.$ 14. 

Lo stupratore ci informa che non gli piace il buio. Il buio lo spaventa. Siamo ten- 
tati a credere che Luca, questo il nome dello stupratore, uno svogliato studente di 
biologia, ragiunatt di una tipografia e tifoso della Roma sia una persona normale. 
Con le sue ansie, le sue illusioni, le sue speranze, la sua solitudine. Come tutti. La 
notte quando fìnge di studiare per fare contenta la mamma, il nostro stupratore 
spia i movimenti di Magda che vive in un palazzo di fronte a lui. Ci immedesimi- 
amo in una normalità tipica di una età post adolescenziale, dove l'indugio in un 
mondo infantile gioca ancora un ruolo fondamentale nel temuto passaggio verso 
la maturità. Niente di nuovo, di anormale, fino a quando Luca si appassiona ad 
un gioco spaventoso, iniziato quasi per caso. Luca sceglie una donna nel mucchio, 
la segue e la violenta. 

Il pensiero di uno stupratore è come il cavalcavia di una città d'estate, non v'è limi- 
te di velocità nella città abbandonata. Il pensiero di una vittima è la carrozza di un 
treno che lo scambio conduce al binario morto. E l'abbandono dal mondo vivo, la fine 
della corsa e l'arrivo in un deserto, quello dello stupratore. In quel momento preciso, 
nello strappo dal mondo abitato, il deserto dello stupratore appare in tutta la sua nefan- 
dezza e crudeltà. E un luogo gelido dove gli elementi si sfogano sulla vittima. 

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Diario di uno stupratore è la cronaca meticolosa di un diario di viaggio, la 
folle corsa di Luca sui cavalcavia, il lucido dirottamento delle sue vittime su un 
binario morto e il lieto fine con tanto di fidanzamento e matrimonio. È un diario 
redatto dal protagonista, Luca, che nella sua descrizione dettaglia-ta delle tecniche 
di stupro, non ci racconta soltanto dell'architettura della violenza carnale ma 
anche della demolizione della vittima. La vittima diventa protagonista nei nostri 
pensieri, le sue reazioni, il suo dolore si fanno emblema della nostra condizione 
manichea e intercambiabile di vittima e carnefice. Sarebbe facile rispondere che 
noi stiamo dalla parte dei deboli, delle vittime ma a chi assomigliamo veramente 
noi, in questa montagna russa di deliri e prepotenze, di paure e umiliazioni, chi 
siamo noi ? 

Anna Maria Pellegrino ci porta lungo le strade della presunta normalità, 
descrivendoci le avventure di uno stupratore, raccolte, esibite, collezionate in un 
diario: lui è il solito mammone, vive con la madre, odia la madre, mangia il suo 
cibo, dorme nel letto rifatto da lei. Studente sbadato e sfigato. Gli amici se la 
cavano meglio di lui o così lui crede. Perché lo lo stupratore crede tante cose, che 
le donne sono tutte troie, che non hanno cuore, che i ragazzi come lui le ragazze 
non se li filano perché non hanno la macchina sportiva e i soidi. Insomma fino a 
qui non ci sono tante differenze tra la vita di uno stupratore e quella di un giovane 
forse un po' sfigatello ma sostanzialmente normale. 

Ma dietro ai ragazzo da bar sport, che va sul balcone a scrutare il buio guatan- 
do la ragazza che rientra tardi la sera, c'è la mente del criminale, dei predatore 
esperto, del furbo cacciatore. Spiare diventa un momento essenziale nella 
defininizione delia preda, della vittima. E un momento di rivalsa in un mondo 
dove nessuno ti guarda. E meglio essere gatto che topo. E lo stupratore non sbaglia 
mai, mira la sua vittima e colpisce. Lo stupratore è il cecchino che usa il pene al 
posto del fucile. 

E lo stupratore si sente eroe da fumetto, la sua doppia vita è da fumetto. Nei 
fumetti i supereroi escono dall'anonimato per azioni impossibili e nessuno riesce a 
vederli in faccia, a scoprirne l'identità. La violenza delio stupro viene descritta 
meticolosamente, ogni particolare è coerente, come nei fumetti iperrealisti, vi è 
una grande mostra di organi e muscoli. Il sesso è sempre icastico, la Pellegrini non 
disdegna il grand guignol e la letteratura un po' pulp. Lo stupratore a cui ogni toc- 
cata e fuga va sempre bene, violenta e sparisce con una perizia ed astuzia uniche. 
Ed alla fine riesce anche a fidanzarsi e sposare la sua ultima vittima. Luca abban- 
dona le sue confessioni sui diario che forse la sua preda un giorno leggerà con 
orrore. Lo stupratore ritorna (per sempre?) nell'anonimato, il costume e la 
maschera appesi al chiodo. 

A che servono libri come questo? Ci avvicinano alla mente criminale dello 
stupratore, ci insegnano a non sottovalutare il linguaggio delia normalità, a non 
credere nella normalità stessa. A rivoltare il concetto di normalità. Il mondo secon- 
do la Pellegrino è diviso in due, da una parte gli uomini e dall'altra le donne. Non 
la pensiamo un po' tutti così? Sono molti che sostengono che gli uomini sono dei 
porci e le donne delie troie. E per la Pellegrino gli uomini sono carnefici e le donne 
sono vittime. 

— 135 — 



Recensioni 



All'autore va riconosciuto il pregio di descriverci anche se monoliticamente 
come il maschio normale sia un violentatore in nuce, e forse questo è il risultato 
migliore dell'intero romanzo, discutibile ma stilisticamente efficace. 

E se questo diario fosse tutto inventato? Se lo stupratore non fosse altro che 
uno studentello/scritttorello insonne che si diletta con volontà di potenza? 

Un libro da leggere ma soprattutto da discutere. 

CORRADO FAINA 
Toronto, Ontario 

Lepschy, Giulio. Mother Tongues atid Other Reflections on the Italian Language. 
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. Pp. 148. ISBN 0-8020-3729-1 
US.$29.95 

In this book, Giulio Lepschy offers four distinctive sections on Italian linguistics, 
together with one specifically focused on the Venetian play La Veniexiana and a 
remembrance of Carlo Dionisotti. Although the author's attention is draw^n most- 
ly to the Italian language, his reflections on Latin, Hebrew, and other languages 
are likely to make a wide range of readers appreciate his work. 

The main topic tackled from the first chapter is that of the 'native speaker' 
of a language, which, as the author states, strictly relates to the concept of 'moth- 
er tongue'. Lepschy overviews the history of the two expressions and discusses the 
difficulties involved in their definition, especially when no living witness of a lan- 
guage is available to investigators. While considering the topic from the Italian 
perspective, the author comments on its peculiarity. Indeed, the co-existence of a 
standard language, regional dialects, and minority languages in the national terri- 
tory poses some questions on how best to identify the Italian native speaker. 

For a long time, the linguistic situation in Italy presented a diglossie division 
between the literary language, that is to say, the standard variety of Italian that was 
taught at school, and the dialects, that is, their mother tongues. Only by the 1970s 
had Italian gained the role of common language also in the oral form as contact 
with television allowed anyone an easy and daily access to the standard language. 

Lepschy readily points out that, however common the language has become 
today, Italians' speech can still reveal regional features, or the speaker's level of edu- 
cation. Also, over the last few decades, standard Italian has changed under the 
influence of the various situations when communication takes place, and so has 
the individuals' attitude towards the language itself As an example, Lepschy pro- 
poses the case of the subjunctive mood and the fact that it can often be seen 
replaced by the indicative. Although Italian and dialect speakers can interpret this 
as more or less grammatically correct, the preference for either mood does not hin- 
der the success of people's interactions. 

In the fourth chapter Lepschy presents an analysis of stress patterns in Italian. 
By means of examples, he argues that secondary stresses, opposed to those falling 
on the tonic syllables, can contribute to phonological distinctions between open 
and closed vowels, as well as to semantic meanings. Since these facts are shown to 
vary among speakers and regional realizations, the author can state that prosodie 

— 136 — 



Recensioni 



features, too, lend themselves to multiple interpretations of today's Italian. 

The linguistic aspects here briefly summed up are just some of the reasons for 
the variety of discussions on the actual identity of the Italian native speaker and the 
proper components of Italian as a mother tongue. Without limiting his view only 
to the Italian language situation, Lepschy attempts a solution to these questions. 

He says, in particular, that the concept of acceptability' can help researchers 
distinguish native from non-native speakers. Native speakers must rely on some 
intuitive language knowledge to be able to accept certain structures and reject oth- 
ers. Because non-native speakers learn, rather than acquire a language, they lack 
such intuitive knowledge and consequently can misjudge unacceptable language as 
correct and possible. For example, Lepschy has noticed that in Italian border areas, 
where minority languages such as German or Slovenian are also spoken, users of 
Italian may not be aware of the ungrammaticality of certain phrases containing the 
indicative in place of the subjunctive mode. 

However valid the concept of acceptability may be, Lepschy adds, one should 
not forget that many world famous writers choose to express themselves in a lan- 
guage other than their own. In so doing, they produce some beautiful and origi- 
nal literary works that would not otherwise be created . If this confirms the close 
link languages and literature establish between each other, Lepschy thinks that it 
does not make the definition of the native speaker any less complex a matter. 
When speaking of poetry, the author even claims that 'no one is a native speaker 
of the language of poetry' (27), meaning that the nature of poetry is independent 
of the language in which one writes. 

In the last two sections of the book, Lepschy comments on the Renaissance 
play La Veniexiana and on Carlo Dionisotti's life and works. 

Lepschy is particularly fascinated by La Veniexiana for two reasons: the role 
and the language of its female characters. The author agrees with the opinion that 
La Veniexiana represents an innovative piece of work, where the female characters 
stop being 'passive objects' and become 'active sexual subjects' (113). Perhaps as a 
way to anticipate the next section dedicated to Dionisotti, Lepschy reminds us 
that the Italian scholar himself interpreted a few passages as suggestive of a 'female' 
touch rather than the expected 'male' one. In the author's view, this interpretation 
introduces further evidence of a message challenging some of the cultural and sex- 
ual conventions current at the time. 

Besides praising Dionisotti's 'natural distinction' (123) and great number of 
publications, Lepschy values his approach to La Veniexiana. While discussing the 
scholar's position within modern Italian culture, the author makes a remark that 
connects with his previous considerations in the book-he emphasizes Dionisotti's 
interest for a geographical perspective in Italian studies. This is most likely the way 
Lepschy shares with Dionisotti the idea that in Italy local characteristics and tra- 
ditions need to be made the starting point for the analysis of any fact concerning 
the Italian language and literature, both of the present and of the past. 



GIULL\NA SALVATO 

University of Toronto 

— 137 



Recensioni 



Antonio Bisaccia. Punctum fluens. Comunicazione estetica e movimento tra cine- 
ma e arte nelle avanguardie storiche. Roma: Meltemi Editore, 2002. Pp. 188. 

Italian film scholars are not particularly known for their commitment to the work 
of avant-garde filmmakers, in spite of the foundational status, for European avant- 
gardes at least, of the manifestos of Futurist filmmaking produced in Italy early in 
the twentieth century. This may have to do with the relative paucity of avant-garde 
film experimentation in Italy — when compared with film traditions in other 
European countries, at least — as well as the lack of incentives, generally speaking, 
for scholarship in non-commercial areas of film production in Italy. Fortunately, 
the research of a handful of scholars in Italy is beginning to fill in gaps in scholar- 
ly accounts of Italian and European avant-garde filmmaking, elaborating upon the 
important preliminary investigations of only a few film historians working in Italy, 
including Verdone, Berretto, and Rondolino. Antonio Bisaccia's most recent book, 
Punctum fluens: Comunicazione estetica e movimento tra cinema e arte nelle avan- 
guardie storiche, makes an significant contribution to aesthetic considerations and 
on-going debates in Italy concerning experimental filmmaking and the visual arts 
of the European avant-gardes since the early twentieth century. 

The title of the Bisaccia's book, Punctum fluens, communicates very well the 
philosophical core of his approach to avant-garde filmmaking. That is, what 
anchors this extended meditation on experimental film is the paradoxical fact that 
the motion in motion pictures depends on a technological capacity to stop and fix 
motion on celluloid, and then, in projection, to produce an impression of move- 
ment, an illusion of motion, in the mind of the spectator. Besides twenty-four 
frames worth of celluloid run through a projector each second, there is nothing 
actually moving in the movies. To the extent that avant-garde experiments with 
film tended to be motivated by a desire to arrive at the essential characteristics and 
expressive capacities of the medium, for Bisaccia, the work of experimental film- 
makers appears to remain essentially engaged with the paradoxical nature of film, 
which reproduces movement and "vitality" only by capturing and fixing motion 
and, by that same token, draining whatever is filmed of its "vitality. " As many will 
recall, this draining of life on the silver screen, this problem of mediated life, alle- 
gorizes modern existence in Pirandello's Quaderni di Serafino Gubbio operatore, a 
novel about film that also inspired Walter Benjamin to write his influential essay 
on "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," in which his med- 
itations on the loss of "aura" in mass-art and in mass-life led him to consider the 
paradoxical nature of motion pictures as emblematic of the existential dilemmas of 
modernity. My sense, after reading this book, is that Bisaccia would not disagree — 
and he clearly signals his intellectual debts to Benjamin throughout the book. 

However, at least as central to Bisaccia's book as Benjamin is Roland Barthes, 
from whom, in fact, Bisaccia derives his title, while endowing it with a mathemati- 
cal connotation less important to Barthes. hs, he clarifies in the opening theoretical 
excursus of his book. Bisaccia draws upon Barthes' distinction (which he elaborated 
first in his study of Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible Anà fiarther developed in La Chambre 
clair) between the studium and the punctum of photographic images. For Barthes, 

— 138 — 



Recensioni 



the studium of a photograph is whatever is of general "human interest" in the image, 
or whatever ctiltural information is being communicated. The punctum is an ele- 
ment that disturbs the studium, interrupts information, and represents an "infrac- 
tion" of communication. The punctum is something that "stings" (punge), "wounds," 
or "stains" the image, and represents a challenge to comprehension: 

II punctum è da\'\'ero qualcosa che ci punge, attirando la nostra attenzione nel- 
l'area del particolare, nel corpo della percezione. Ed è da questo presupposto di 
fondo che si proverà a descrivere del cinema d'avanguardia solo ciò che ci ha 
punto, senza preoccupazioni sterilmente filologiche. (9) 

As this statement makes clear, the provocative or even heretical power of the 
punctum in photography and fdm will also enable Bisaccia to break with the his- 
toricist and philological tradition that has largely constrained Italian film scholar- 
ship for decades. In its place, Bisaccia proposes an examination of the aesthetic 
dimension of experimental films, "a volo di colomba kantiana" (15). And while 
he's at it, he will couch his discussion in a style of prose that oscillates between aca- 
demic commentary and description, on the one hand, and another voice that is 
clearly infected or irradiated by the aesthetic force of the films he discusses, on the 
other. This will result in a book that combines a synthetic survey of the European 
avant-gardes and the cinema (the book's studium) with moments of poetic depar- 
ture and tangential meditation that at times verge on a sort of Kantian stream of 
consciousness (the book's punctum). This hybridization of Bisaccia's book, torn 
between the scientific "responsibility" of the scholar and the poetic "reverie" of 
spectator, leads the author to concentrate on the formal, alliterative and rhythmic 
aspects of his own writing, and this seems not only entirely acceptable, in a sort of 
Barthesian mode, but ofi:en most pleasurable. That is, the book is informative and 
theoretically coherent, but also often great fun to read: 

Anche A propos de Nice (1930) di Jean Vigo, si può fregiare del riferimento al ci- 
nema puro con i suoi giochi d'artificio mirabolanti, le sue riprese dall'alto, le sue 
geometrie in movimento, i suoi uomini come statue mobili, presenze casuali, 
escrescenze terrestri della ville, queste marionette di carne abitano e prolificano in 
un territorio cementizio, dove tutto è forma che raccoglie forme, e ritmo che sus- 
sulta quasi per eccesso di realtà. (56-57) 

It seems to me that there is as much Manganelli here as there is Kant. 

Preliminary to his survey of film and the visual arts, Bisaccia clarifies his pref- 
erence for the term "experimental film" [film sperimentale) over the more com- 
monly used term "avant-garde film" {film d'avanguardia). Drawing upon pro- 
nouncements on the matter by theorists and historians such as Brunius, Poggioli, 
Noguez, Costa, Verdone, Mitry, Weiss, and Jakobson, the author suggests that 
"experimental film" better communicates the attempt by film artists to create new 
forms of aesthetic elaboration, through films that give priority, as Jakobson would 
say, to the poetic function of the work: "Film sperimentale è allora quel film in cui 
il messaggio è in qualche modo autoriflessivo, richiamando l'attenzione sulla sua 
stessa struttura. 0\'\'ero quando è costruito in maniera ambigua" (21). 

— 139 — 



Recensioni 



Furthermore, Bisaccia resists the martial rhetoric of "avant-gardism" and insists, 
not without humour, that we might better refer to experimental films as films of 
"desertion": 

Già in altra occasione abbiamo proposto di sostituire la vecchia metafora militare 
dell'avanguardia con un'altra (altrettanto conosciuta) metafora: quella della diser- 
zione. Diserzione come violazione della legge della visione. (23) 

Thus, experimental films are those in which transparent audio-visual com- 
munication and narrative legibility are absent without leave. 

In the chapters that follow, Bisaccia charts a fascinating course through the 
films of "desertion" by "outlaw" filmmakers associated with the principle avant-garde 
movements of the European twentieth century, from Futurism to Impressionism, 
German Expressionism, Dadaism, and finally Surrealism. In a manner that is quite 
unusual in surveys of the filmic avant-gardes — especially those studies that woidd 
argue that avant-garde filmmakers were principally involved in "deconstructing" the 
classical narrative style — Bisaccia demonstrates the interaction between filmmakers 
and artists working in the other media, including music, painting, dance, poetry, 
photography. Indeed, the Futurists, he suggests, arrive at film through music. That 
is, it was after Corra and Ginna had experimented with the chromatic piano (whose 
twenty-eight keys were wired to twenty-eight coloured light bulbs) that they turned 
to film in order to make Vita futurista in 1916. Like Schonberg, these avant-garde 
musicians hoped that film might allow them the opportunity to visualize their com- 
positions (35). In what will be news to many film scholars who knew only of Corra 
and Ginna's Vita fiiturista — which has at any rate been lost — Bisaccia describes the 
work of the Corradini brothers, in which they experimented with colour and 
rhythm, though always with an eye to expressing the chromatic effects and aesthet- 
ic excesses found in paintings, music, and poetry, by artists such as Segantini, 
Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Malarmé. The result of their efforts is a series of hand- 
painted abstract films bearing such titles as Accordo di colore and Studio di effetti tra 
colori that were made between 1911 and 1912, films that appear to anticipate later 
work in Italy by Luigi Veronesi (though the latter's work is not mentioned, since it 
falls outside the scope of Bisaccia's book). The attention to these other films by the 
Corradini brothers opens the way for an entirely new chapter in the history of Italian 
experimental film in the 1910s. 

In the pages that follow. Bisaccia demonstrates the profound importance of 
Survage's materialist theory of colour and rhythm (found in Le Rhythme Colore and 
Survage's drawings for abstract films), perhaps indicating Survage's experiments as 
an under-appreciated current in abstract filmmaking — based on a sort of psy- 
chology of colour derived from his study of contemporary painting — that runs 
parallel to the "pure abstraction" or "absolute films" of Eggeling and Richter 
(whose work is also treated in this book) . Thereafter, Bisaccia offers a panorama 
of the most significant film artists working in Europe before the arrival of sound, 
including the "first wave" (predominantly Impressionist) avant-gardists, such as 
Delluc, Epstein, L'Herbier, Gance, Dulac, who experiment with the "lyrosophic" 
autonomy of the new medium, divorced from the logic of commodity exchange. 

— 140 — 



Recensioni 



He examines how Surrealist and Cubist filmmakers such as Clair, Picabia, Richter, 
Léger, and Soviet FEK artists Kozincev and Trauberg, carried out a type of anti- 
aesthetic. Formalist and "eccentric" film practice designed to release objects fi'om 
sense by estranging them fi-om usual contexts — allowing objects to "rebel" fi-om 
meaning and attain a renovating autonomy. He suggests that Clair and Picabia, in 
Entr'acte, were influenced by the avant-garde chance operations of AppoUinaire 
and Tzara. Delluc's "simplicity" is explained as the "sottrazione del cinema al 
dominio indiscreto della letteratura e del teatro, in modo da restituirlo al vigore 
visuale che gli è proprio .... Delluc sognava di un film dove non succedesse niente" 
(68-69). For Delluc and Riccioto Canudo, film deserves to be considered the 7th 
art because "può esprimere senza dire nulla" (71). He suggests that "L'Herbier 
cerca di teorizzare, visto l'inevitabile interconnessione tra cinema e industria, un 
sodalizio compromissorio in cui la mediazione della moneta non decreti 
l'estinzione dell'estetica" (80). Bisaccia plots Léger's course from the "mechanical 
period" in his painting to his decision to make films, arguing that "Léger trova nel 
cinema un alleato ideale per le sue sperimentazioni pittoriche" (106). He con- 
cludes his book with an account of how Dadaists and Surrealists — such as Clair, 
Picabia, Ray, Duchamp, Bitot, and Bunuel — experimented with optical devices 
and distortion techniques, resulting in films that emulate the chronotope of 
dreams and challenge the cultural domestication of vision and thought. In so 
doing, "l'immagine non è più asservita alla relatività del rappresentare, alla gogna 
che soffoca la vitalità delle cose, alle concatenazioni del senso, e alla rassicurante 
'imagerie' borghese" (147). In the process. Bisaccia makes clear how experimental 
films sought to act as energetic antidotes to cultural and intellectual anaesthesia: 
As Barthes would say, they were designed to sting. 

Bisaccia has written an admirable and well-documented book that challenges 
standard historical approaches to avant-garde film, and he makes a strong argu- 
ment that experimental filmmaking should not be seen merely as a response to the 
stylistic and narrative tyranny of Hollywood and the classical style associated with 
American fiction films. Rather, the work of the artists he describes is better served, 
his book suggests, by inserting it within the context of avant-garde experimenta- 
tion and theorization in all the arts during the first thirty years that followed the 
birth of motion pictures. Elaborating a method of analysis beholden to Barthes' 
notion of the "third sense" of a work of art that does not offer the "spasm of the 
signified" — but also clearly influenced by a very thorough knowledge of experi- 
mental filmmaking from the silent period in Europe to the work of more con- 
temporary work by artists such as Stan Brakhage and, especially, Michael Snow — 
Bisaccia has written an excellent book that will be useful to scholars and film afïi- 
cionados alike. In the process, he has helped to fill the scholarly gap in aesthetic 
considerations of the historical avant-gardes in Italy and Europe, and does so in an 
intellectually and stylistically challenging manner, teetering "back and forth" 
between responsibilit)' and reverie. Punctum. 



PATRICK RUMBLE 
University of Wisconsin-Madison 

— 141 



Recensioni 



Celli, Carlo. The Divine Comic. The Cinema of Roberto Benigni. Lanham, 
Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2001. 175 pp. 

To North American audiences, Roberto Benigni is most certainly best known for 
his film La vita è bella which earned him three Oscars in 1999, including Best 
Foreign Film and Best Actor. Celli s recent monographic study of the multifaceted 
actor/director's career provides the English-speaking cinéphile with a comprehen- 
sive look at Benigni's origins, family background and previous experience in the- 
atre and film. 

The preface pays homage to Benigni's international acclaim and success after 
the awarding of the three Academy Awards to Life is Beautiful but stresses Benigni 
as a steady presence in Italian popular culture since the mid-seventies. The aim of 
this book is clearly to introduce English-speaking audiences to Benigni's earlier 
film, stage and tv performances with an emphasis on the cultural and intellectual 
backdrops that characterize his films. This study offers an introduction to 
Benigni's readings of Dante and the Old Testament and traces the progression in 
Benigni's art and particularly his cinematic style as he "attempts a more ambitious 
use of the camera to filter reality into his own artistic vision" (p.x). 

Celli provides an extensive, detailed biographical summary which explores the 
ancient Tuscan origins, the relationship Benigni-Dante and the influence on 
Benigni of Italian cinematic masters such as Cesare Zavattini and Pier Paolo 
Pasolini. Subsequent chapters deal with the genesis and development of the Ciani 
persona, the main character in Benigni's monologue Ciani Maria di Gaspare fu 
Giulia (1975), as Celli traces the evolution of this character from theatre to film 
justly noting the significance of the appearance of this 'decidedly leftist, obscene, 
country bumpkin' on the RAJ state television as a "complete subversion of RAI's 
conservative policies" (p.33). With the Cioni persona, Benigni continued his chal- 
lenge to intellectual hegemonies in Italy, "in this case the linguistic and cultural 
commonplaces of Italian state television" and "with his parody of RAI program- 
ming methods. Benigni continues the challenges to cultural elites that were first 
expressed in the Roman avant-garde theater" (p. 37). 

A fifth chapter, 'Film Apprenticeships and Cameos, 1979-89', traces Benigni's 
collaboration and cinematic apprenticeship with Renzo Arbore, Marco Ferreri, 
Cesare Zavattini, Sergio Citti (and the Pasolinian school of filmmaking). Federico 
Fellini as well as U.S. independent film director Jim Jarmusch. This discussion 
effectively illustrates the attraction and influence of strategies of filmmaking that 
sought to 'counter the dominant cinematic culture with an alternative based in 
artistic forms that have at their heart a Gramscian search for nonbourgeois sources 
(Zavattini, Pasolini)' (p. 48) or 'lead the audience to question the commonplaces 
of commercial cinema (Jarmusch)' (p. 51) or yet 'criticize the dehumanizing con- 
fusion of the modern lifestyle (Fellini)' (p. 51). 

A chapter entitled 'Benigni's Religious Parody on Stage' demonstrates how, in 
comic vein, Benigni incorporates into his parodies the influence of Schopenhauer: 
the theory of the world as an expression of the will, the inconsistencies in the bib- 
lical representation and expectations of God, the inconsistency in the Christian 

— 142 — 



Recensioni 



dogma with regard to man's supremacy over animals and the incongruous concept 
of the Last Judgment and CeUi attributes to Benigni's treatment of rehgion 'the 
carnival physicality of Rabelais, the scepticism of Schopenhauer and the cynicism 
of Pascal' (p. 60). 

Benigni's growth as a director is mapped out in chapters VII through X: from 
the novice director of a first feature length film Tu mi turbi (1983) who uses the 
camera to emphasize his comic presence rather than as an instrument to alter or fil- 
ter reality' (p. 67) to the more mature director of // mostro ( 1 994) 'where the cam- 
era becomes an interpreter of a social reality that complements his comédie body 
rather than merely records it' (p. 86), Celli traces the evolution to a higher level of 
cinematic sophistication which will appear in La vita è bella. These chapters exam- 
ine also the various incarnations of Cioni-like characters in II piccolo diavolo (1988), 
Johnny Stecchino (1991), Il mostro (1994) and even La vita è bella (1997). 

A lengthy final chapter is dedicated, most fittingly, to La vita è bella, one of the 
most internationally successful non-English language films in cinema history, as 
Celli rightly notes — a triumph at Cannes and at the Academy Awards, but also 
object of much controversy over the delicate question of the suitability of using 
comedy to depict the Holocaust' (p. 97). In his discussion of this film. Celli high- 
lights the fable-like construction of the film, the suspension of normality, the intro- 
duction of fantasy elements as well as the homage to Chaplin and the reliance on 
cinematic techniques reminiscent of the silent era and rightly places Benigni's film 
in a tradition of Italian cinema which re-examined Italy's Fascist past. To counter 
the prevalent criticism on the film's lack of historical realism and the viewers' inabil- 
ity to achieve a suspension of disbelief. Celli defends Benigni's conscious choice of 
an understated approach where 'horror is evoked rather than depicted' (p. 115). 

Celli's monograph concludes with an Appendix consisting of two interviews 
with Benigni: the first, conducted by Celli, offers the reader Benigni's insight on 
questions regarding his improvisations, monologues and religious satires as well as 
Dante and 'high and low culture'; the second, conducted by Vanina Pezzetti, treats 
the question of Jewish identity, verisimilitude and the combination of tragedy and 
humour in La vita è bella. 

This volume features also an extensive bibliography, complete filmography 
and list of Benigni's theatrical work which will render it an indispensable tool for 
any student or scholar of Benigni in particular or of contemporary Italian cinema 
in general. Its general readability and engaging style will fare well with proponents 
of 'high' and 'low' culture alike . . . 



RACHELE LONGO LAVORATO 

University of Toronto 



143 — 



Contributors 



CONTRIBUTORS 



George F. Butler is an independent scholar who has published in such jour- 
nals as Milton Studies, Philological Quarterly, Modern Philology, and 
Comparative Literature Studies. Although his interests focus primarily on 
Classical Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, they also run 
the gamut from Nonnos of Panopolis to Lady Gregory. 

Stefania Lucamante is Associate Professor and director of the Italian 
Program at The Catholic University of America in Washington, where she 
teaches Italian and Comparative Literature. She is the author of Elsa 
Morante e l'eredità proustiana (Fiesole: Cadmo, 1998), Isabella Santacroce 
(Fiesole: Cadmo, 2002) and the editor of Italian Pulp Fiction: the New 
Narrative of the Giovani Cannibali Writers (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh 
Dickinson U.P., 2001). She has published articles on Italo Svevo, Natalia 
Ginzburg, Francesca Duranti, Fabrizia Ramondino, Dacia Maraini, Nico 
Orengo, Melania Mazzucco, Pia Pera, on gender and representation in 
contemporary Italian narrative in several journals, both in Europe and in 
America. 

Lucia Re is Professor of Italian at the University of California, Los Angeles. 
She recently completed a book entitled Women and the Avant-Garde: 
From Futurism to Fascism. Her many publications on modern Italian lit- 
erature and culture include Calvino and the Age of Neorealism: Fables of 
Estrangement (Stanford, CA: Stanford U.P, 1990), which won the MLA 
Marraro Prize. 

Anne Urhancic received her PhD from the University of Toronto where she 
now teaches in Italian Studies and in the Program in Semiotics and 
Communication Theory. A specialist in nineteenth/early twentieth centu- 
ry literature, and in foreign language pedagogy, she has published exten- 
sively in many academic journals in Europe and in North America. 

Barbara Zaczek, Associate Professor of Italian at Clemson University, SC, 
is the author of a book Censored Sentiments: Letters and Censorship in 
Epistolary Novels and Conduct Material (Newark: University of Delaware 
Press, 1 997) and many articles on contemporary Italian literature and cul- 
ture in scholarly journals. She is currently completing an anthology on 
Italian women partisans Resisting Bodies, co-authored with Rosetta 
D'Angelo. The anthology is a translation of fictional and autobiographical 
accounts of women's experience within the partisan ranks. 

— 144 — 



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